Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities

A naturally occurring retirement community (NORC) is a type of senior housing arrangement that develops gradually over time. A single apartment building, a city neighborhood or even several areas within the same community can constitute a naturally occurring retirement community. The common link is that the residents of these communities have chosen to age in place together, either delaying or forgoing a move to traditional senior housing altogether. Naturally occurring retirement communities offer a network of support that enable residents to age in place safely, and for as long as they choose to stay.

Naturally Occurring Retirement CommunityWhat to Expect from a NORC

While there may be local ordinances and regulations that naturally occurring retirement communities must adhere to, they are not regulated at a state or federal level like other types of senior housing. Because of this, each community is unique, and has the freedom to choose the types of supportive services that would best suit its residents, to negotiate those terms with the providers, often securing group rates or discounts, or access to services that individual residents might have trouble obtaining on their own.

There is no “typical” naturally occurring retirement community, but most of them share a few common elements. For example, many communities elect a board to make important decisions on behalf of the community; such a board may comprise residents and/or concerned members of the community at large. Other communities follow a “majority rule” or other informal ruling process, but all naturally occurring retirement communities have some type of organized structure for decision-making. In addition, residents are usually required to pay annual dues that go toward the cost of services that are made available. These dues may be a fixed price set by individual or couple status, or based on a sliding scale.

Some of the community services that might be available to residents of a naturally occurring retirement community include: home repairs and renovations to support aging in place; home care and home health care; hospice services; social services; activities; home meal delivery; and basic transportation. This varies by location, of course, but the basic idea is that the naturally occurring retirement community will arrange for the necessary support services to help its residents stay at home safely for as long as they desire and are able.

Pros and Cons of Living in a NORC

Like the service offerings, due to the individual nature of naturally occurring retirement communities, the pros and cons of living in such a community also varies from place to place. But here is a general idea of what you can expect.

Living in a naturally occurring retirement community allows seniors to age in place, remaining close to neighbors and friends, in a familiar environment. Most residents prefer this over having to adjust to an entirely new environment (e.g., a nursing home) where they don’t know anyone and must abide by “someone else’s” rules. For seniors who own their homes or have affordable rents, living in a naturally occurring retirement community can also be a very cost-effective option as compared to other types of senior care housing, especially if the community or its representatives pool resources or get group rates for necessary services.

On the other hand, residents may not have access to the services they need if they are not offered through the community. Is it safe for them to age in place without those services readily accessible? Is the neighborhood safe? Also consider whether it’s important that the naturally occurring retirement community be close to emergency services. And finally, does the senior like the area and the neighbors? If he or she is ready for a change of pace, then perhaps a move to a more traditional senior housing option is in order.

Written by senior housing writer Nikki Jong.