Nationally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC)

A Nationally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) is a type of community that was not originally built for seniors, but now is home to a significant proportion (40 percent or more) of older residents. NORCs are not planned senior communities; rather, they happen almost by default. NORCs evolve as a critical mass of older people continue to age in place or immigrate into the community, or younger people move out.

The following table provides a description of these events.

Events Leading to Evolution of NORCs

Seniors age in place. Many NORCs are home to residents who raised families there decades ago and never left. These residents strongly wish to continue living in their long-standing homes.
Seniors immigrate into the community. An in-migration pattern often brings seniors into age-integrated communities, typically in urban centers, where the seniors have access to amenities, culture, and other activities
Younger people emigrate out of the community. Out-migration, typically in the case of younger residents moving from rural areas, leaves concentrated populations of older residents behind

NORCs have become more prevalent than any type of planned senior living facility. They exist on many types of properties, including subsidized housing complexes, private condominiums or cooperatives, rental apartment buildings, and single-family neighborhoods. They come in countless shapes and sizes, but can be grouped into three broad categories, as shown in the table below.

 Categories of NORCs

NORC Category
Other Names
Housing-based NORC These communities are located in
·    Classic NORC ·     A single age-integrated apartment building
·    Closed NORC ·     A housing complex with multiple buildings under common management
·    Vertical NORC ·     An area where a number of apartment buildings are clustered together
Neighborhood-based NORC ·    Open NORC These communities are typically situated in one- and two-family homes in age-integrated neighborhoods
·    Horizontal NORC
Rural NORC ·    Naturally Occurring Retirement Region (NORR) Covers a large geographic area with low population density, typically made up of one and two family homes

NORCs Supportive Service Programs (SSPs)

Taking advantage of the skills and experiences of senior residents and other resources, some of these communities successfully support aging in place. The density and proximity of seniors in NORCs provides economies of scale that make it possible to rethink the ways services can be organized and delivered.

Some NORCs thrive, while others seem to wither. A key differentiating factor is the existence of supportive service programs. Many communities have developed NORC supportive service programs (NORC-SSPs or just SSPs) to serve their senior residents by providing social and healthcare services tailored to their specific needs. The community-based programs are often partnerships of housing/neighborhood organizations, residents, health and social service providers, and other community stakeholders.

NORC-SSPs are generally supported by some mix of public and private funding. They combine revenue and in-kind support from government agencies, housing partners, philanthropies, corporations, community stakeholders, and residents.

A NORC-SSP was first established in 1986 at Penn South Houses, a ten-building 2,800-unit, moderate-income housing cooperative located in New York City. It developed with support from the UJA/Federation of New York. Since then, the NORC-SSP model has been broadly replicated at the local, state, and national levels.

Services Offered by NORC-SSPs

As NORCs evolve into NORC-SSPs, they typically begin offering:

  1. Social services
  2. Case management
  3. Healthcare management
  4. Education
  5. Recreation
  6. Transportation
  7. Volunteer opportunities

A key feature of the NORC-SSP model is flexibility in identifying and providing the kinds of services needed by each individual community and the seniors who live there. While each NORC-SSP provides a unique scope of services, all NORC-SSPs strive to maximize the health and well-being of resident seniors. In this way, NORC-SSPs help seniors to maintain their independence and comfortably age in place. NORC-SSPs exist on a spectrum, wherein the political, social, and physical environments of some NORC-SSPs are more senior-friendly.

Find a Healthy NORC-SSP

As you are evaluating each NORC-SSP, look for signs that it is a healthy program. Evidence of a healthy NORC-SSP is a community where you see that the environmental characteristics are well aligned to enhance its residents’ quality of life and well-being.

Click here to find a downloadable questionnaire designed to show the characteristics of healthy NORC-SSPs.