To find subsidized housing for a largely Polish clientele, the North Brooklyn Development Corporation’s office secretary scours her newspaper daily for three-inch advertisements announcing new, “affordable” housing developments.

Another employee clips ads from the free daily distributed at his subway stop. A tenant organizer sometimes consults online listings published by city and state housing agencies, but staffers have found those entries often are outdated and incomplete.

“You have to be constantly looking for available units, but we just don’t have the time or resources,” said Filip Stabrowski, a tenant organizer at the Greenpoint nonprofit. “A lot of the time, it winds up coming down to word of mouth.”

In the 21st Century, word of mouth is not how New Yorkers typically meet basic needs. The city has modernized many of its functions, building online systems for reporting potholes, appealing parking tickets and tracking the performance of police precincts and local schools. But even as the city undertakes a major expansion of its subsidized housing stock, the process of finding and applying for those apartments has become so haphazard and mysterious that many New Yorkers don’t even know where to start. Others are defeated by the complexity of the system.

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