Academic journal article Care Management Journals

NORC Supportive Service Programs: Effective and Innovative Programs That Support Seniors Living in the Community

Academic journal article Care Management Journals

NORC Supportive Service Programs: Effective and Innovative Programs That Support Seniors Living in the Community

Article excerpt

NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities) are housing complexes which were originally designed for persons and families who have now "aged-in." People moved in and stayed. When originally developed, these housing entities were not designed for older persons nor did they include programs of social and health supports. Therefore when the majority of the residents become elderly the housing management is faced with problems they are not prepared to handle. Management becomes overwhelmed; the quality of life for all becomes compromised.

Mutual Redevelopment Houses (Penn South Cooperative) is an NORC. Built in 1962 with union funds and tax breaks from New York City, Penn South was designed as affordable housing for working people. Situated in the Chelsea area of Manhattan, it is a complex of 10 buildings, with 2,820 apartments and approximately 6,200 residents. Over 75% of its population is now over the age of 60. By providing a supportive service program onsite in an NORC, as the Penn South Program for Seniors has done since 1987, thousands of older persons have been helped to remain living independently and with dignity in their own homes. This programmatic approach is also a cost-effective way to provide social work services and health care for a large elderly population. A NORC Supportive Service Program stabilizes and enriches the community as a whole, while assisting management in preventing costly housing problems and strengthening intergenerational ties in the complex.

The Penn South Program for Seniors' (PSPS) team provides a comprehensive program of social work, nursing, recreation and educational enrichment. It is the model for the 1994 New York State Legislation that created NORC Supportive Service Programs. Originally designated by the state as a demonstration project, the success of the program over recent years has secured NORC funds as part of the regular aging services funding stream.

Fourteen NORC supportive service programs now operate in New York under this funding. These programs save public dollars by requiring the housing entity that requests state money to match the grant with its own funds as well as with philanthropic dollars. Each NORC program, designed as a collaborative venture between New York State, housing, social service and health agencies, becomes an attractive site for medical providers and home care agencies. With large concentrations of seniors in NORCs, agencies have been eager to offer their services to this ready market. We have found that New York State dollars have succeeded in leveraging twice as many dollars to the match, as well as donated "in-kind services" from providers.

In addition, it can be estimated that in a 12-month period, NORC programs saved nearly 11 million dollars by forestalling 460 hospital stays and 317 nursing home placements, as reported to the New York State Legislature in the NORC-SSP 3-year report. NORC supportive service programs, in New York State and around the country, do more than save dollars; they help keep people out of institutions and to remain in their own homes- where they want to be.


Michael Hunt and Gail Gunter-Hunt (1985) defined the term NORC while studying retirement communities. NORCs have generally been understood as buildings, apartment complexes or neighborhoods, not originally planned or designed for older people, without admission restrictions based on age and where over time the majority of the residents have become elderly. They recognized that NORCs differ from the stereotypical retirement community and "yet are the most common form of retirement community in the US."

A 1989 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) study found that 27% of all older Americans live in NORCs as compared to 6% in planned senior housing or retirement communities. The study concludes that "naturally occurring retirement communities are the most dominant and overlooked form of senior housing. …

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