A NORC, A Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, is a demographic term used to describe a community not originally built for older adults that now has a significant proportion of residents over the age of 60. These communities were not originally created to target the needs of Seniors living independently in their homes, but rather evolve naturally as adults age in place.
NORCs exist in single family neighborhoods, subsidized housing complexes, private condos or co-ops, and apartment buildings. They can be grouped into two main categories: housing-based or vertical NORCs which are found in apartment buildings or complexes, and neighborhood-based or horizontal NORCS which are found in neighborhoods comprised of single or two-family homes.
3 factors contribute to the evolution of a NORC:
1. Residents deciding to remain in their homes as they age
2. Seniors moving to specific locales where they have access to climate, services and amenities appealing
to their age group
3. Younger residents moving out of an area for either job or family related reasons
So why would those of us interested in aging-in-place care about a NORC? Because the population density of older residents creates an opportunity to develop targeted services and programs that enable adults to remain in their homes and neighborhoods as they age and their needs change. Similar to a Home Owners Association (HOA) where dues are collected to pay for certain services, ie lawn mowing, roof replacement, exterior painting, a NORC can form an organization to offer support services designed to specifically meet the needs of its residents.
Best estimates place the number of communities in the United States that could be classified as NORCs in the thousands. AARP estimates that more than 25% of Seniors currently live in NORCs.
On example of a NORC is Boston's Beacon Hill Village. It got started when its first president, Susan McWhinney-Morse, discovered that she had an aversion to the idea of taking older people out of the community where they had lived for years "in order to cluster them where they could be warmer and play golf". She has lived in Beacon Hill since 1964 and raised four children there. She and 11 other longtime residents created a membership organization for people aged 50 and older to help them stay in their homes as long as they wished. Almost 500 members pay annual dues of $600/year for an individual or $850 for a household (with membership subsidized for those who can't afford it). The yearly budget, about 40% of which is provided by donors and foundations, provides services that include grocery shopping and home maintenance. Beacon Hill now has a staff that acts as a concierge service of sorts. The staff connects people to caterers, dog walkers - any service requested. The group also refers residents needing home health care services to a provider it has vetted and with which it has negotiated discounts.
Contrast the Beacon Hill NORC with the 1st NORC program which was established in 1986 at Penn South Houses and supported by UJA/Jewish Federation of NY. This NORC in Manhattan is a 10 building, 2,800 unit, moderate income housing co-op. The $15 a year membership dues combined with grants and city and state funding provides most of the program's annual budget. That money pays for wellness programs, cultural services, on-site nurses, social workers and other health professionals.
The funding for NORC programs generally comes from some mix of private and public sources, combining revenue and income from residents, philanthropies, government agencies, and corporations. The programs are the result of partnerships with local community housing and neighborhood organizations, health and social service providers, non-profits and businesses. Scope of services offered can include referral services, emergency and preventive health care programs, meal programs, transportation assistance, educational programs, social activities, information and counseling, and home modifications. The NORC model is designed to enhance existing services while responding to any gaps in the senior service network.
And while each NORC program may provide a unique scope of services, they are all designed for one purpose - to maximize the health and well-being of the residents so they can maintain independence and stay in their homes for as long as possible.
The idea of Seniors banding together and taking the initiative to create service programs designed for the greater good of their own neighborhoods is extremely appealing. In fact, Seniors play a critical role in a NORC program's success for they are not only the clients but also the program developers, leaders, supporters, and ambassadors as they work to define and integrate appropriate services into their communities. Power to the People !!