SoCal Connected on KCET

House for Rent: $1

Val Zavala: In a charming Spanish house in Los Angeles, Shantee Roach and her daughter are getting dinner ready. The little ones are playing a game. And her oldest boy is in the backroom. A happy family on a Saturday afternoon. But what you can’t tell by looking is that Shante, single mother of four, is digging herself out of debt and desperation. She’s a dental assistant who used to live in a cramped apartment paying $1,100 a month.

Shantee Roach: I had a great nesting, but of course with $1,100 to rent, it goes quickly. And plus, four kids. No, no.

Val Zavala: It didn’t take her long before she was way behind.

Shantee Roach: I was having panic attacks at night. No other bills were being paid, just rent.

Val Zavala: One day she was so desperate, she started looking around for things to pawn.

Robert Roach: So what I did was like mom I’ll pawn my Xbox so we can get the money. So I got my Xbox gear, everything from my controllers to my games. And we pawned it, but we still didn’t have enough money. So I was like, dang. So I got more of my stuff and pawned it, and we made rent for that month.

Shantee Roach: The hardest thing I’ve ever done to my life was go to a pawn shop and say, I just need the money.

Val Zavala: But even that didn’t save them. A few months later, they were evicted. So they came here to Alexandria House, a shelter for homeless women northwest of Downtown. And the people here told Shantee that they knew of a man who had a house to rent for $1 a month. That’s right, $1 a month. So the shelter encouraged Shantee to put her name on the list. A few days later, the man with the house wanted to meet her.

Shantee Roach: And I was like oh my goodness. He wants to meet with my kids, and me. All of them. So we went and met with him and 15 minutes later, he said I want you guys to have the house for 2014. I was like, are you serious? We are going to get this house. 3 bedrooms, beautiful home, 2 bathrooms. And now I actually get to breathe?

Val Zavala: In a city where affordable housing is in short supply and landlords can collect hefty rents. Who would rent their house out for a mere $1?

Tony Tolbert: Hi, my name is Tony Tolbert and I’m making my home available to a family in need for a $1 a month.

Val Zavala: Tony is also an admission officer for UCLA Law School.

Tony Tolbert: I’ve had wonderful opportunities in my life. Great family, great educational opportunities. So I asked myself if I’m not prepared to step up and made a contribution, who should I expect will?

Val Zavala: Tony used to live in the house himself. So where did he go?

Tony Tolbert: In order for this to work financially and logistically, I had to move in with my mother.

Val Zavala: What did she think?

Marie Tolbert: I said have you lost it, or you out of your mind?

Tony Tolbert: But she wasn’t really surprised because Tony’s father was always bringing people home. People who were down on their luck and in need of a place to stay.

Marie Tolbert: On one occasion, one person stayed two years, but that was sort of the way I grew up. So he heard those stories and heard stories of my grandparents and how they did that. So it really is something natural for him to do.

Val Zavala: The lease is just for one year, but it’s a year Shantee is determined to use wisely.

Shantee Roach: God has given me this great miracle. I am not going to let this opportunity just pass away without me doing what I’m supposed to do. Every month we have things to accomplish, and I’m on it. I get to show my kids that this is the way life is supposed to be. You’re not supposed to be stressing over rent, you’re supposed to be enjoying life.

Val Zavala: As word got out, Tony was flooded with emails, nearly 800 of them from all over the country. Most sound like this, “you reminded me of what really matters, thank you Tony and god bless you.” Little wonder that Tony was selected as a Local Hero. And Tony has some advice for people who are thinking of doing something just as generous. Be courageous and do it and don’t get stuck in the what ifs. There’s a relatively straightforward path to make it happen but I really do believe we are connected, we’re all responsible for one another.

Shantee Roach: There are angels out there. Tony is an angel for doing what he is doing. Giving people the chance to reestablish themselves. It’s wonderful.

Would you rent out your house for just $1 each month for a year? Local samaritan Tony Tolbert decided to rent out a charming Spanish house in South Los Angeles for a family in need each year.

The home now belongs to renter Shantee Roach, a single mother of four who used to pay nearly $1,100 a month for rent. Roach and her kids were evicted from their previous apartment after being unable to pay rent. They later moved to Alexandria House, a shelter for homeless women where she found out about Tolbert and his unique offer.

The shelter encouraged Roach to put her name on the list, so she did. To her surprise, she heard back from Tolbert, a 50-year-old man who had moved in with his mom to make room for a lucky renter who would pay only $1 for rent each month for a year.

Sounds too good to be true, right?

Tolbert was honored by KCET's Local Heroes during Black History Month earlier this year. Host Val Zavala visited the home for a short Local Heroes profile on him and will expand for "SoCal Connected."

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