Some retirement communities are planned, others just happen. The latter are sometimes referred to by urban planners as NORCs – “naturally occurring retirement communities.” They’ve emerged as an attractive way for seniors to age successfully in their homes by tapping into community support services and volunteer programs.
It is estimated that there are thousands of these naturally occurring retirement communities across the United States, and that approximately 27 percent of our senior citizens live in them. So what are NORCs?
AGING IN PLACE
These are communities or neighborhoods where residents have lived and aged together long enough for a naturally occurring retirement community to evolve. Residents have either aged in place by living in their homes for several decades, or older adults have migrated into the same community where they intend to spend the rest of their lives.
NORC is a demographic term used to describe a community not originally designed for seniors, but one that has grown naturally to have 40 to 65% of its residents over age 60. These communities were originally built for young adults and were never intended to meet the particular health and social service needs of seniors.
The term NORC was first coined in the 1980’s by Michael Hunt, a professor of urban planning. NORCs were originally identified in urban settings, but are now found in all geographic locations. They are usually small by design and span a few square miles with a base of 1000 to 3000 people. They can be as small as a city apartment building or as large as a suburban neighborhood with single family homes.
NORCs can be categorized into three types:
- Classic NORC: This is a single age-integrated apartment building, a housing complex with multiple buildings under common management or a number of apartment buildings clustered together.
- Neighborhood-Based NORC: This is an age-integrated neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.
- Rural NORC: This is a large geographic area with a low population density, typically comprised of one-and two-family homes.
DESIGNING & IMPLEMENTING A NORC PROGRAM
NORCs are privately developed and managed, and relatively new, so there is no centralized listing of programs. The best place to find information on NORCs is online. Listed below are a few good sources to help in determining if there’s an existing model that suits your community:
- The United Hospital Fund at www.norcblueprint.org
- Aging Agencies in many states have information on NORCs
Each NORC is different and focuses on local needs and individual communities. Funding, staffing and services should reflect a specific community and the staff may consist of full-time and part-time employees and numerous volunteers. NORCs may be largely supported by member dues of $500 or more per year or seniors may pay little or nothing, with the bulk of the support coming from local foundations, charity-supported agencies and government funds. The key requirement is a healthy mix of private and public funds.
Seniors should play a central role in the development of the NORC program. They are clients with diverse needs and interests, and residents with a rich network of relationships, knowledge and expertise. Effective programs will enable seniors to take on new roles in their communities as leaders and project developers. There is the evolving realization by large numbers of seniors that their participation is required in the building of their later lives. Retirement can extend 25 to 30 years and without a community support system, seniors run the risk of health challenges and isolation.
NATURALLY OCCURRING RETIREMENT COMMUNITY SUPPORTIVE SERVICES PROGRAM
Some organizations and local governments have brought together social services, health care, transportation and residents to develop a NORC supportive services program (NORC-SSP). This program receives funding from private sector contributions; charitable donations; resident membership or activity fees; and federal, state, and local grant funding. NORC-SSPs directly service seniors in the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities and may provide:
- Social work case management
- Mental health services
- Social and cultural events
- Home care
- Bereavement support
- Home repair and maintenance
- Exercise classes
- Continuing Education programs
There is another type of community that has evolved and may be confused as a NORC; but based on the concentrated percentage of seniors required to be called a NORC, these communities are called neighborhood villages instead. These communities are grassroots movements providing services and programs for their aging population. Some villages provide services and programs for members only who pay annual membership fees, while others charge nothing for services. Some set a minimum age for membership. All rely heavily on neighborhood volunteers. Services provided may be:
- Social and educational programs
- Friendly visits or phone calls
- Assistance with household repairs and maintenance
Neighborhood villages face constant challenges with funding, and some charge annual membership fees. Others seek funding from other sources. The first neighborhood village was organized in Boston, Massachusetts in 2001 and is called the Beacon Hill Village.
AN ALTERNATIVE IDEA
Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities are the new alternative for aging in place in the neighborhood where you raised your family and made lifelong friends. Options for organizing this type of community may seem overwhelming and complex, but the underlying principle is simplicity: neighbors caring for neighbors in a close-knit community.