What is a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community?

How to Get the Care You Need Without Moving

"Naturally occurring retirement community" isn’t a well-known term, but as the population continues to age, the model of a NORC is growing. Think of it as the perfect mix of aging in place, while giving seniors everything they need to age well.

What is an NORC?

Think of a naturally occurring retirement community as sort of a middle ground between independent living and living in some level of long-term care facility. For example, let’s say Mike has lived in a high-rise apartment building for a long time. Maybe he moved in when the building was originally constructed or converted to an apartment complex. Over the years, Mike has made a lot of friends in the building. Many are his age and have lived there as long as he has. Mike and his friends were of working age when they moved in but now, they’re retirees.

As Mike and his friends have aged together, they've told their friends about the building and as a result, an increasing number of older people have moved into the building, to where it has become largely populated by people either approaching retirement age, or those who are already 65 and over. In fact, well over half the building is past retirement age.

Formalizing the Community

Seeing an opportunity to provide services for this building full of aging people, a management company, often funded by government money and/or grants, may offer services like visiting nurses and doctors, social events like dances, men’s and women’s groups, trips, courses, and exercise and health classes. These services are offered for free or at very little cost in most cases.

To keep costs down, members of the NORC (people like Mike) might staff some positions on a volunteer basis.

They can sit on boards and committees, offer certain classes to other community members at no cost, work in the management office, help keep the building clean, or organize events. This not only keeps the residents connected to each other and mentally and physically active, but it also keeps costs to the residents down.

The Aging Stigma is Gone

One of the toughest parts of being a senior citizen is when you’re forced to give up your independence. Leaving your community and friends to move in with family or into an assisted living facility is sometimes the beginning of a downswing in health because of the mental toll it takes.

NORCs take this stigma away because retirees can remain in the same home and community they’ve lived in for years as the building becomes an NORC. Instead of moving to receive services, the services come to them.

This not only keeps costs down for the retiree, but their mental health also remains strong because they don’t have to build a new life at a time where they want to hold on to the connections they already have.

Where to Find an NORC

Naturally occurring retirement communities are not well documented but as of 2018, at least 25 states have them. New York has the most known communities—35 in New York City alone. Most known NORCs are found in urban areas, but they’re appearing in suburban and even rural areas as the trend gains traction. Because NORCs are often funded by city and state governments, you’re most likely to find them where services are within a reasonable distance, and city governments are large enough to provide a substantial part of the funding in partnership with the state and other grants.

Real World Conditions

Some NORCs are vibrant communities with a rich menu of services available to residents. The communities are so attractive that pre-retirement age residents moved in long before needing services, knowing that when they reach an age where they need those services they won’t have to leave.

Other NORCs aren’t as well orchestrated. Some are described as sad places where residents aren’t as well cared for as they deserve, but that’s true of all retirement facilities. Before moving into one of these facilities you should do plenty of research, including talking to a number of current residents to gain a clear view of the health of the NORC.

When you find one with glowing reviews, you will join the many people who are finding an answer to wanting to age in place while also receiving services essential to their mental, physical and financial health.