The NORCs Are Coming! Naturally Occuring Retirement Communities Thriving in New York

The population of the United States is graying. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Americans aged 60 and older grew by almost 4 million. Improved health care and resources are enabling people to lead longer, healthier lives, forcing many co-op and condo buildings to confront the issues of an aging ownership. In complexes where at least 50 percent of the residents have one family member over 60, a growing elderly population may now require specialized support, services and facilities that may not have been planned for when the typical population of the building, and even the building itself, was much younger.

What's In A NORC?

A 1997 study found that that the overwhelming majority of seniors - 89 percent - live in their own homes and wish to stay there. Locally, the proportion of New York City seniors, aged 85 and over - the nation's fastest growing group of seniors - has increased by 19 percent in the past decade.

The decision to forego retirement options such as planned senior housing or assisted living facilities is now called "aging in place." And the phrase "naturally occurring retirement community," - "NORC" for short - was coined in the 1980s by sociologist Michael Hunt and his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally, the acronym referred to neighborhoods that were not planned for, but attracted, older immigrants. Lobbying by groups concerned with the provision of services to graying Americans has brought national attention to this unique community.

Officially, the NORC designation now connotes a community that is bringing in necessary social services, and receives government funding to better address the needs of older residents. Recently, the term has been used to refer to any group of elderly individuals, who are living as a community in the framework of the entire residential population of one or more buildings. A report by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) described NORCs as "the most dormant and overlooked form of senior housing."


The first NORC services program in the nation developed in New York City in 1986, at the Penn South Co-op complex in Chelsea. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union built the 2,800"“unit complex in 1962. Designed as a social experiment in providing affordable cooperative housing for moderate-income workers, the 10 twenty-one story buildings were dedicated by President John F. Kennedy. Many of the original residents - who once walked to work in the nearby garment center - chose to stay in New York after retirement. By the early "˜80s, 70 percent of the shareholders in the complex were over 60.


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