Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)

A naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) has many residents over sixty (60) years of age. These communities happen naturally without any prior planning to meet the needs of seniors who are living independently.Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

Michael Hunt (a professor of Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) came up with this term in the 1980s. He defined these communities as housing developments and neighborhoods that were built for younger families but have at least fifty (50%) percent of their population with people fifty (50) years or older who have aged in that location. They now reflect local residential patterns.


Aging in Place within a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

Tenants who are aging in place with their neighbors are offered support in these types of communities. The different types of NORCs are defined by the neighborhood boundaries or by the size of the building complex. These types include:

  • Neighborhood-based — this is an age-integrated neighborhood of one or two-family homes. They are also called horizontal or open NORCs.
  • Rural — this covers a large geographical region with one or two-family homes in areas of low population density. They are also referred to as Naturally Occurring Retirement Regions (NORR).
  • Classic — referred to as closed, vertical, or housing-based, this can be a single age-integrated apartment building, a number of apartment buildings clustered together, or a housing complex with several buildings under the same management.

In some cities, there is a shift from rental to homeownership and that is why these NORCs were established there. Often owners have more control over their financial status in regard to housing as monthly maintenance fees tend to rise at a slower pace and rate than rents. Also, many residents who have been in the same place for a long time have already paid their mortgages and coop fees so they often choose to remain there through their senior years.

There is the stability of owners of condos and coops so they tend to transform into a naturally occurring retirement community. Other than for financial or medical reasons, a person tends to stay put through the aging process when the monthly costs are reasonable and stable.

How a Natural Occurring Retirement Community is Structured

Unlike 55+ communities NORCs spring up on a natural basis. Programming and funding for these types of communities are provided by the city and state as well as through charitable and non-profit organizations.

These funding sources don’t go out looking for these types of communities to designate and fund. Instead, people come to these agencies (such as the state department for aging) and organizations and apply for status as a NORC.

While there are core services provided, the actual programming is specific and unique to each individual community whether it is a neighborhood, single building, or a cluster of buildings.

Some of the core services include health care management, benefit and entitlement application assistance, case management, and assistance and information in the providing of referrals. As far as the health care component is concerned it is not a medical model but it provides assistance in answering questions related to a person’s health as well as monitoring more chronic conditions. A needs assessment is taken in order to understand and identify any gap in services in a particular community.

Many of these communities develop a different model specific to the needs of the location. The Village Movement originated in Boston in 2001 helps seniors stay in their homes and stay active in their communities. They establish local non-profits to provide government-sponsored programs for homes repairs, health care, transportation, meals, and volunteer services.

Benefits of a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community and a Few Minuses

As with anything else, there are pros and cons to this type of living arrangement. Let’s identify a few of these.

Benefits (+)

  • health care assistance and information
  • transportation services
  • maintenance of property
  • majority of expenses included in one monthly fee
  • have and make friends with similar interests
  • sense of community and sharing — socialization and community activities
  • lots of amenities
  • NORC Support Services Program (NORC-SSP) — socialization, education, social work services, volunteer and recreational opportunities, health care prevention and management
  • maintain independence — help with transportation and food
  • lower cost

Minuses (-)

  • no instant medical attention — for people with serious health conditions this may not be the optimal choice in a living environment
  • can’t sell the unit at the market prices — within a limited equity cooperative it is not allowed to sell your unit on the open market. It is to be sold back to the cooperative at a low market rate. This is how they keep the housing prices low.
  • low-quality NORCs — not all of these communities are created and function the same. Some are much better than others so it requires an adequate amount of due diligence to determine the quality of the services provided and the overall functioning of the community. Ideally, you want to find a community with walking access to amenities, a clean and safe environment, an active and stable community, a good relationship with the local government, and good transportation services.Naturally Occurring Retirement Community

Is a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community Right for You?

This type of community may or may not be right for you. On the other hand, these types of communities are ideal for many people as they progress through the stages of their lives.

The basic premise of this type of community is to integrate and facilitate social and health services that exist in the community. This results in enabling people as they get older to stay at home and have a sense of community with friends, family, and neighbors.

When you find a NORC that is well functioning with good quality services and amenities the pluses or benefits far out way any drawbacks or minuses to living in these types of communities. Again it is an individual decision based on a person’s desires, needs, and preferred lifestyle.

As the number of choices continues to increase it is just a matter of doing the research in order to find the best community for ourselves or our loved ones. There are many affordable retirement communities available. Is a naturally occurring retirement community right for you? Do the research and find out.

All the Best,

Joseph William

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6 thoughts on “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)”

  1. I never really like retirement homes. But seeing this just opened up my eyes. I will refer this article to friends and family. Not really sure if I will send my parents to a retirement home but I am sure that my friends would want to. Thank you for this article, I appreciate it. 

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Daniel. This is not a traditional retirement home as it is more like apartments or homes where people over 50 live and usually at reduced rates. It’s a way to downsize and be around people in your generation to do fun activities and stay active. A retirement home in my definition is more like a convalescent home whrere people need care 24/7. Thanks for your comments.

  2. Good article. I usually recommend quality retirement communities, even among people who think they may not be ready yet to consider it. I’ve been looking into this myself. I’m fussy, so what you’ve suggested makes good food for thought.

  3. It is so good to hear that you have such communities that happen naturally, this is the first time however that I heard of these kinds of communities but if it works then that is so good helping persons to settle into this way of living. I believe that communities like these are great compared to retirement homes.


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