For three years, a Ballard property-management firm has run a contest offering a free apartment for one year. The winner is chosen from those answering, “How would a free apartment for one year allow you to give back to the community?”

There were only 98 entries in this year’s contest for a prize worth $16,740 to $21,540.  Up for grabs: a Seattle one-bedroom apartment — ranging from $1,395 to $1,795 a month — free for a year.

In the vagaries of what gets publicity, the contest, in its third year, just didn’t get much play. Last year there were 400 entries; the first year, 100.  Entrants are judged on a 350-word essay in which they answer, “How would a free apartment for one year allow you to give back to the community?”

The contest is run by Walls Property Management, a family-run business out of Ballard.

“I’ve just been frustrated with the conversation about how landlords are portrayed, and this is my small piece to contribute to the conversation about the perception of landlords,” says Preston Walls, owner of the firm.

That perception, he says, is that “increasing rents in Seattle are attributable to landlords being greedy.”

The free apartment will be in Ballard, Magnolia, Wallingford or Queen Anne, depending on which unit is available June 1, the move-in date.

“It won’t be in a shiny new tower, but it will be a clean, comfortable place to live,” according to the contest rules. After the one year, the winner has the option to stay at market rates.

Here are this year’s three finalists. The firm will run a background check and also interview them.

Katie Gonzalez, a senior at Clallam Bay High School, wants to become an oceanographer:

“I have been raised by my single mother and have been working hard to prepare myself for college life. She has been unable to help me these last two years due to my grandmother’s condition. I have been applying to every scholarship I can find and have been taking online college courses to help alleviate the cost of attending the University of Washington Bothell campus this fall.”

Julie Feng is returning to Seattle with her husband after two years with the Peace Corps in Morocco.

She wrote, in part:

“ … my husband is starting medical school at the University of Washington, a huge step towards his ultimate goal of becoming a primary-care physician for Native American communities.”

Feng wrote that she’d like to work for a refugee group or a nonprofit.

“Because of my partner’s tuition fees, I must consider taking a better-paying corporate job rather than the path of passion. A free apartment for a year would not only lift this burden, but completely change our lives,” she wrote.

The third entrant, who wants to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, is studying social work at the University of Washington.

She wrote, in part, “5 years ago I was the homeless one … It was only through the support and generosity of other people that I was able to turn things around …

“While volunteering at Everett Transitional Housing a couple years ago, I began a donation program to collect mattresses for new tenants who were sleeping on bare floors . … During the last holiday, my program distributed supplies to 37 needy people in my area … Last year I was able to help four people enter treatment for the first time.

I want to do more.  But I can’t afford to live anywhere near the city. As a college student, I can hardly afford to live anywhere at all. I currently commute at least 3.5 hours daily.  If I could live closer, I could expand my program to target those who need it the most, those homeless people who are least likely to be exposed to services.”

Which one would you choose?

“Such big goals and ambitions”

Last year, two winners were chosen because two apartments became available; otherwise it’s just one winner.

Winner Pamela Green has 12 children — 10 daughters and two boys — whom she raised alone. Three of them wrote in to nominate their mom.  Genna Green, 34, was one of them. An excerpt from her entry:

“What people instantly know about Pam is she has a heart of gold and a natural kindness and compassion for people. She is hardworking and gives her all to those in need. If she is not providing resources, listening and uplifting the broken women whom she advocates for in the shelters, she is helping in her community. What people do not know is she does this while enduring her own struggles with homelessness.

“Although Pam works part-time for two shelters, she herself is homeless. Due to high rent cost in Seattle, Pam is unable to find affordable housing so she is forced to couch surf between family members. The hardship she faces is humiliating, yet humbling. She will not go into a shelter as she feels she could be taking space from someone who does not have family they can stay with. She works in the field so she fears her homeless status could hurt her employment.

“Pam’s goal is to start a Youth Shelter; an establishment that would empower youth and provide a holistic, therapeutic & educational approach to rehabilitating at-risk youth.”

Green says that she’s on the way to fulfilling her goal, putting together the paperwork for a nonprofit, putting together a board to overlook it, looking for a site.

Says her daughter, “I think that having the stability of a home helped tremendously. You have such big goals and ambitions.”

Pamela Green moved into the free apartment last June. She’s not planning to stay past her year — “I’m looking for a bigger place,” she says.

The second winner was Vanessa Ish. She wrote, in part:

“I moved to Seattle three years ago fresh out of law school from Florida with garbage bags of clothes and an air mattress.

“The first three months were rough, studying for the Bar Exam all day while ignoring the temptation to shut the books and explore the city. I passed the Bar exam but couldn’t find an attorney job.

“I worked as a waitress at a crab-house while searching diligently for the right opportunity …

“After some research, in June 2015, I decided to start a nonprofit law firm, the Northwest Civil Law Group, for low income and moderate means individuals, businesses, and artists.  Since opening, I have not paid myself a penny of earned client fees … I currently work five other jobs (barista, bartender, cocktail waitress) in order to pay my rent … This gift would change my life.”

A call to the number listed for the Northwest Civil Law Group brings a recording:

Ish says that she and her partner in the firm tried to defend their practice with studies. The IRS wouldn’t budge.  Ish now works for Amazon as an international-compliance specialist.  She’s not planning to stay at her apartment when her free year ends this June, either. She wants a place closer to work.

Things didn’t work out for her dream.  But she got the chance to try.

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