“Naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, are unplanned communities that have a high proportion of older residents, and may be critical to finding housing solutions for aging Canadians.”
September 8, 2020
[Excerpts] The global COVID-19 pandemic has shown Canadians that we need to think differently about how we support older adults. The media and all levels of government have focused heavily on long-term care, and rightly so. However,the vast majority of older adults live at home and plan to remain there for as long as possible.
In a July 2020 Home Care Ontario survey of older adults, 93 per cent of the 1,000 respondents indicated their desire to stay in their own home. No one identified long-term care as part of their future housing plans. Simply put, although necessary for some, long-term care is not where most people choose to live.
It had been clear well before the pandemic tha tlong-term care is costly and woefully inadequate to meet the needs of Canada’s aging population. It is crucial to expand the conversation to consider what other housing solutions exist and how they can be implemented.
Alternative housing models
Essential to the success and acceptability of any housing alternative is the need for older adults to maintain a sense of autonomy and independence, be actively engaged in decisions affecting themselves and their community and have the opportunity to build social networks that can ultimately support one another.
Villages and co-housing are two examples of how we can think differently. In the village modelfound in the United States, older adults living in a neighbourhood of single dwelling homes come together as a group to organize paid and volunteer services.
Originating in Europe, co-housing brings together younger and older adults in clusters of homesor apartments built around shared spaces. Members work together to manage common spaces and support each other through group activities such as communal dining.
Naturally occurring retirement communities
Naturally occurring retirement communities(NORCs) offer a third example with enormous potential. Unlike the village or co-housing models, NORCs are unplanned communities that have a high proportion of older residents.
For example, individuals in a specific neighbourhood may have aged together as a community, or an apartment building in a walkable neighbourhood may attract older adults moving from single family homes. On their own, NORCs are simply a way to describe a community’s demographic profile, however, they can be seen as a critical piece of the solution.
Researchers have referred to NORCs as “ untapped resources to enable optimal aging at home” with the potential to build social networks and integrate supportive community programs. Studies have demonstrated the benefit of these communitiesto building social networks and increasing participation in daily activities. There are well documented examples o f NORCs with social support programs in New York and other U.S. states. To date, there has been very little focus on NORCs in Canada and only a handful of documented examples.