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What Is a NORC?

A NORC – the widely used term that is short for naturally occurring retirement community – is a community that was not originally built for seniors, but that now is home to a significant proportion of older residents.

Never in the history of this country have so many communities been NORCs. But the American population is aging, and those numbers can only increase over the next 20 years.

NORCs are not planned communities. Rather, they evolve as people:

  • Age in place. Many communities house residents who raised families there decades ago and never left. They strongly wish to continue living in their homes of long standing.
  • Move into the community. A pattern of in-migration often brings seniors into age-integrated communities, typically in urban centers, where the seniors have access to amenities, culture, and other activities.
  • Move out of the community. Out-migration, typically reflecting the departure of younger residents from rural areas, leaves sizable populations of older residents behind.

NORCs exist in 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 two broad categories:

  • Housing-based NORCs. Also called a “classic,” “closed,” or “vertical” NORC, these are located in a single age-integrated apartment building, a housing complex with multiple buildings under common management, or an area where a number of apartment buildings are clustered together.
  • Neighborhood-based NORCs. Also known as “open” or “horizontal” NORCs, these are typically one- and two-family homes in age-integrated neighborhoods.

By taking full advantage of the skills and experiences of senior residents and other resources, some of these communities are finding strategies for supporting aging in place. Because of the density and proximity of seniors in NORCs, economies of scale make it possible to rethink the ways services can be organized and delivered, creating opportunities to make these communities good places in which to grow old.

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