Behind the List
The History of Listings ProjectBy Stephanie Diamond
June 22, 2021
Almost nineteen years ago, I sent an email to friends asking for housing leads. I had no idea, at the time, that inquiry would evolve into Listings Project. But here we are almost nineteen years later, helping people find and share space. We’ve come so far since our early days when I copy and pasted listings into a word doc before sending them out. So much has changed since then, but some things have stayed the same. We are as committed as ever to our vision of collective self-care, to carefully vetting all our listings, to supporting artists, and to bringing together diverse groups of people to create respectful, life-affirming, justice focused ways of sharing space.
We have carefully developed our values and practices over the years. As we step into the future of Listings Project, I wanted to take a moment to share our journey with the community. So, here is a brief history of Listings Project’s growth and evolution.
In 2003 I emailed my friends asking them for housing leads. I was a graduate student at NYU and desperate to find an apartment close to campus. Even after I found an apartment, though, people kept sending me housing leads. As a social practice artist, it was second nature for me to keep sharing them. I was soon soliciting and collecting dozens of listings per week, formatting them in a word document, and emailing them out to all my friends.
It wasn’t immediately clear to me that I was building a business. It was clear, though, that I was helping my community. After a few months, my friend Sanford Biggers sent me a listing saying “can you send this out to your amazing list?” It was the first time someone had reached out proactively to contribute a listing, and to access the community that was forming. That’s when I knew I was really on to something. It felt like I was doing what I was meant to do. It felt sustainable and collaborative and like I was a part of something bigger than myself and also able to be of service.
By 2008 the list was so large that I realized I needed to work with a newsletter service provider. Just sending people emails from my personal email wasn’t going to work. That year I also officially named the list, “Listings Project,” and I bought our domain name.
By 2010, Listings Project was a vibrant community of thousands of people. It was still free to post, so I made ends meet through several adjunct teaching jobs. I thought I was on the precipice of getting job security and benefits through one of my gigs, but as so often happens with adjunct teaching positions, at the last minute I found myself out of work and wondering what to do. I knew I didn’t want to stop working on the Listings Project, but I was spending an enormous amount of time on it and I needed to find a way to make it financially sustainable.
So in 2011, we started charging for listings on a sliding scale. And, in 2013, we began work on our first website. My daughter was due that year, so I raced to finish it before she was born. Our website was a game-changer for us. For the first time, we had a real presence on the internet. It made us more visible and helped Listings Project grow dramatically.
We had a developer working on our site ten hours per month, but it quickly became clear that we needed more help. We had a backlog of work that needed to get done and there were opportunities that we weren’t taking advantage of. So in 2015, on the recommendation of a trusted advisor and friend, I hired an engineer. It was my first full-time hire, and I had to take out a bank loan to do it. Between 2015 and 2018 our team continued to grow, eventually adding two more wonderful people who could help shepherd Listings Project into the next phase.
By 2017 I was leading a team of four. It was a challenge, but it was also a relief. It was so exciting to learn from the team and collaborate creatively. And I was thrilled to know that we had the resources and the diversity of expertise to continue to support the community.
By 2018 we had grown—entirely by word of mouth— into a bigger and more vibrant community than I ever could have imagined. It was clear to me that if we were going to continue to preserve the intimacy and empathy of Listings Project, we need to be even more intentional about making Listings Project an inclusive and equitable space for everyone. In 2018 we had our first equity and inclusion workshop and in 2019 we wrote our Equity and Inclusion Statement. We have since updated it, but the core commitments are still there and still guide our decision-making every day.
We also decided it was time to invest in storytelling and content at Listings Project. It was something we had talked about for a long time, and in 2020, just as the pandemic swept across the world, we hired our first writer and began working on creating our blog. We also began outlining the kinds of writing we wanted to share: resources and guides to navigating real estate, profiles of artists and activists, and articles about what we believe and how we operate at Listings Project. Our blog would be a new way for us to create a more equitable, inclusive, and empathetic real estate world with our community.
As the pandemic upended lives all over the world, things were tumultuous at Listings Project, too. One of our cherished team members chose to move on to other adventures, and others were added. We began to think about how we could expand, and be of service to more people, in more places, and in more ways. At the beginning of 2021, we decided to focus our attention on growing in Los Angeles. We also began working with skilled practitioners in diversity, equity, and inclusion work.
We also noticed during the COVID-19 pandemic that being able to share resources and opportunities online suddenly became much more important. So we decided that we would make our opportunities and seeking categories free for at least a year, to enable listers to reach out and find each other. Our community had found many ways of connecting during the pandemic, and we wanted to support that. One lister, Marc Fisher, had created a “Quaranzine,” another offered free singing zoom telegrams, many listers got involved in local mutual aid efforts, artists and healers figured out how to move their practices online, and community members hosted dance parties and collective movement sessions over zoom.
Inspired by all the innovation we were seeing, in the summer of 2020, we decided to survey our community, to find out more about the needs and talents of listers. From the results of that survey we learned that over 80% of listers who responded identified as an artist or creative. Over 50% of listers who responded offer services on a freelance or gig basis. Almost half of listers who responded had applied for a job in the last year. And 32% of listers who responded had hired someone in the last year.
Based on that information we expanded and refined our opportunities section to better support listers in their creative and professional lives. We created and launched a new Jobs & Gigs section that is entirely separate from our Real Estate & Opportunity listings in March of 2022.
As we continue to grow our opportunities section, our hope is that it will provide a platform for thinking differently about how we live together in the world. We want it to be a place where we can be resourceful, collaborative and innovative, a place where the skills and talents of artistic people are highly valued. We intend it as an invitation to all of us to ask for what we need, and offer what we have to give.
Feature image: Stephanie's first apartment found through Listings Project; photo by Stephanie Diamond
Stephanie Diamond is the founder and CEO of Listings Project. She is also a social practice artist and a certified 5Rhythms dance teacher. You can learn more about her work at www.stephaniediamond.com.