NORCs on the Rise A Look at Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities

Among the many positive aspects of apartment ownership (rather than renting) are long-term stability and long-term occupancy.  Long a city of mostly renters, New York City has transitioned into more and more a city of owners over the past 40 years with the advent and success of the co-op and condominium boom, both in the conversion of existing properties and the construction of new ones.  One of the results of this shifting model is the evolution of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities – or NORCs, for short.

According to the website of Goddard-Riverside Community Center, located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, “The NORC model emerged in the mid-1980s to provide support to people aging in place along with their neighbors. NORCs tap into the combined power of public and private funding, housing partnerships, philanthropies, corporations, community stakeholders and residents to offer the services tenants need. Without this support, many older adults would have to move into assisted living or nursing home facilities before it’s necessary.”

What is a NORC?

NORC is a term used to describe a community that has a large proportion of residents over 60, but was not specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes.  The term was coined in the 1980s by Michael Hunt, 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.  Accordingly, the term NORC can apply to either a specific building or HOA, or an entire neighborhood, designating more than one apartment building in New York as a member of the category.

In order to be considered a NORC, New York City requires that a given community must have heads of household 60 years old or older in at least 45 percent of their units, and a minimum count of at least 250 seniors, or that there be at least 500 older adults who are 60 years old or older living in the community, regardless of what percentage of housing units they comprise.

Jennifer Unser is the Aging Services Program Coordinator for The New York State Office for Aging.  “NORCs go back decades,” she says.  “In the late 1980s a program was established at Penn South in Manhattan on its own, without state funding.”  

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