Naturally occurring retirement community

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A naturally occurring retirement community—or a NORC (rhymes with “fork”)—is a community that was not originally designed for seniors, but that has a large proportion of residents who are older adults (at least 60 years old). These communities are not created to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes, but rather evolve naturally, as adult residents age in place.

NORCs may develop in three different ways:

  • A large number of persons moved into a community when they were younger (i.e., aged in place);
  • A large number of older people move into a community (i.e., immigration); or
  • Older people remain in a community as younger residents move out (i.e., emigration).

Currently, best estimates place the number of United States communities that could be classified as NORCs in the thousands. AARP estimates that more than a quarter of American seniors currently reside in NORCs. Experts expect the number of NORCs will increase as the population of seniors continues to grow rapidly.


The demographic term “NORC” was first coined in the 1980s by Michael Hunt,[1] a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He defined NORCs as neighborhoods and housing developments, originally built for young families, in which 50 percent of the residents are 60 years or older and have aged in place. Over time, this threshold definition has been adjusted by communities and policymakers to reflect local residential patterns.

For example, the federal government, through Title IV of the Older Americans Act,[2] recognizes NORCs as communities in which at least 40 percent of the heads of households are older individuals. The State of Indiana defines a NORC as a community in which 50 percent of housing units have heads of household who are 60 years old or older and/or at least 2,500 heads of household who are 60 years old or older. By contrast, New York City requires that a community must have at least 45 percent of housing units with heads of household 60 years old or older with a minimum count of at least 250 seniors, or that there be at least 500 older adults who are 60 years old or older (regardless of the percentage of housing units).


NORCs are geographically defined either by the dimensions of an apartment building complex or by the boundaries of a neighborhood. While NORCs were first identified in urban settings, they can be found in communities large and small and in all geographic settings. A NORC can generally be categorized as one of three types:

  • Classic NORC. Also called a “housing-based,” “vertical,” or “closed” NORC, a classic NORC may be 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 NORC. Also known as a “horizontal” or “open” NORC, a neighborhood-based NORC is typically an age-integrated neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.
  • Rural NORC. Also known as a Naturally Occurring Retirement Region (NORR), a rural NORC covers a large geographic area in which the population density is low, typically comprising one- and two family homes.


In response to the NORC demographic phenomenon, many communities have developed NORC programs, also known as NORC supportive service programs (NORC-SSPs or just SSPs), to serve their senior residents by providing social and health care services tailored to their specific needs. These community-based programs are often partnerships of housing/neighborhood organizations, residents, health and social service providers, and other community stakeholders. While each NORC program may provide a unique scope of services, all NORC programs share one goal—maximizing the health and well-being of resident seniors so they can maintain their independence and comfortably remain in their homes as they age in place.

NORC programs are generally supported by some mix of public and private funding, combining revenue and in-kind supports from government agencies, housing partners, philanthropies, corporations, community stakeholders, and residents. NORC program services may include case management, health care management, recreational and educational activities, transportation, and volunteer opportunities for senior residents. A hallmark of the NORC program model is its flexibility in identifying and providing the kinds of services needed by the community and the seniors who live there.

The first NORC program was established in 1986 at Penn South Houses, a ten-building 2,800-unit moderate-income housing cooperative located in New York City, with support from the UJA/Federation of New York. Since then, the NORC program model has been broadly replicated at the local, state, and national levels and can be found in more than 25 states across the country.


  1. ^ Michael Hunt
  2. ^ Older American Act Title IV, Section 422

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