9 Frequently Asked Questions about NORCs

1.  What is a NORC?

“NORC” – short for naturally occurring retirement community – is a demographic term used to describe a community that was not originally built for seniors, but that now has a significant proportion of older residents. NORCs can evolve because residents age in place, move into an age-integrated community, or stay behind when younger residents move out. A housing-based NORC can be located in an apartment building, a housing complex with multiple buildings under common management, or an area where a number of apartments buildings are clustered together. A neighborhood-based NORC is typically located in a neighborhood of one- and two-family homes.

2.  Where are NORCs found?

Currently found in many U.S. communities, NORCs are expected to become more common as the population ages. NORCs are located in communities large and small, across the economic spectrum, from dense urban neighborhoods and developments to sprawling suburbs and remote rural towns.

3.  How do I know if my neighborhood is a NORC?

When New York state first passed legislation to create public funding for a NORC program (1995), a NORC was defined as a community in which more than half the residents are 50 or older. Over time, that definition has been adjusted in a number of ways to reflect local and state conditions. For example, criteria for funding may consider a community to be a NORC if 40 percent or more of its households are headed by someone 65 years of age or older, as long as there are a minimum of 200 such individuals. The precise density, proximity, and numeric definitions now vary, and appropriately so, across the country. In general, the key is for a community to have a profile that allows for sufficient economies of scale.

4. What is a NORC program?

A NORC program is an innovative model that coordinates a broad range of social and health care services to support the senior residents of a NORC. NORC programs take a proactive approach that seeks to deepen the connections older adults have to their communities before crises occur. The model draws its strength from multidisciplinary, public-private partnerships that unite social service and health care providers, housing managers or representatives of neighborhood associations, and community residents, especially older adults. Government agencies and philanthropic organizations provide essential funding.

Together, the partners organize and develop a mix of on-site services and programs that respond to an individual’s changing needs over time and promote community change in support of successful aging. The shared goal is to maximize the health of the community. The uniqueness of the NORC program model is that it expands the role of older people from service recipients to active participants who are shaping their communities into good places to grow old. The model helps communities shift the service paradigm from an emphasis solely on providing services to individuals to one that promotes community change.

5.  How many NORC programs exist today?

The first NORC program was launched in a moderate-income housing complex in New York City in 1986, with private philanthropic support. The success of this model led to public policies and legislation in both New York State (1995) and New York City (1999) to provide ongoing funding for NORC programs. Today, 54 NORC programs operate in housing developments and neighborhoods across the state in NORCs that are home to more than 50,000 seniors.

Between 2001 and 2006, Congress awarded 43 earmarks, administered by the Administration on Aging, to support the development of NORC programs in communities in 25 different states.

6.  How are NORC programs funded?

NORC programs are public-private partnerships that are typically supported with some combination of funds from government agencies, housing partners, philanthropies, corporations, and residents. Effective programs also attract in-kind support and services from their partners, other local organizations, and businesses.

Although programs can be planned and initiated with short-term funding, such as legislative earmarks and philanthropic support, long-range stability requires appropriate local, state, or federal policies, and ongoing public funds. A number of states are moving in that direction with public policies that support NORC programs through legislation, demonstration programs, and collaborations with philanthropies interested in promulgating the model more broadly.

7.  Does Medicare or Medicaid cover the operating costs of a NORC program?

No, but NORC programs help seniors gain access to the health care and social services they are entitled to under Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement and benefit programs.

8.  What services does a NORC program provide?

In a NORC program, social workers, nurses, and residents work together to address the needs of seniors in the community. While there is enormous variety in the integrated package of services, projects, and activities they may provide, basic offerings include:

  • Social work services. This includes a broad range of supports to individuals and caregivers.
  • Nursing services. This includes individual care to older adults managing chronic conditions (such as referrals for reimbursable skilled care services and coordinating medical care with physicians) and activities that address health issues affecting many community residents.
  • Educational and recreational activities. NORC program activities – lectures, concerts, classes, field trips, card games, cultural activities, discussion groups, and more – are diverse and designed to engage the broad range of seniors in the community.
  • Opportunities for community engagement. Senior residents make NORC programs possible through their roles as program advisors and ambassadors, fundraisers, teachers, and peer counselors, among others.
  • Ancillary services. These reflect the unique needs of each community and are intended to advance the broader goals of the NORC program. Examples of ancillary services are transportation, housekeeping, and social adult day programs.

9.  What are the distinctive characteristics shared by NORC programs?

A NORC program operates within the context of the community in which it is located, recognizing that the lives of its residents are shaped by its unique physical, social, and health characteristics. Among the distinctive characteristics of NORC programs:


  • Community residents are fully involved in NORC program planning and development.
  • NORC programs provide a tailored response to the unique needs and aspirations of the community, drawing on available assets and addressing specific challenges.
  • Services are proactive and designed to engage seniors before a crisis occurs.
  • All seniors in the community are served, regardless of income level or functional status.
  • Seniors are full partners who take on new roles in their community even as they benefit from NORC program services.
  • NORC programs are organic and flexible, with projects and activities modified and augmented in response to the changing needs of the communities they serve.