The Case for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCS)

CARP advocates for quality of life for aging Canadians.

There are many factors that impact quality of life as you get older, but one of the big ones is your living situation.

For most in Canada, aging in place – at home – is a clear preference. In fact, 96% of CARP members tell us they want to age in place.

It’s not hard to understand why. People want to feel that they live in homes, not institutions, that their lives remain full, that they are connected to community supports. Unfortunately, the demand from Canadians wanting to age in their homes and communities for as long as possible has outpaced the health, social and housing infrastructure needed to do so. Underpinning this challenge is a diverse lack of policies that can enable not just ageing in place, but what the NIA calls Ageing in the Right Place (AIRP): “the process of enabling healthy ageing in the most appropriate setting based on an older person’s personal preferences, circumstances and care needs” (NIA, 2022a, p. 18).

CARP continues to urge the government to recognize that home and community-based care solutions are critical to resolving Canada’s long-term care crisis.

As well, as there is need to bolster community-based solutions for age-appropriate housing that have been evolving in communities across the country.  CARP for instance supports innovative and creative solutions that Naturally Occurring Residential Communities (NORCs) present.

NORCs are communities that naturally come to house a high density of older adults over time. NORCs may include rental apartments, condos and co-ops, but do not include communities that were purpose-built to provide care for older adults such as retirement homes, assisted living facilities or long-term care homes. The NORC Innovation Centre defines NORCs as buildings where at least 30 percent of residents are 65 years of age and older, with a minimum of 50 older people per building. NORCs exist all across the country. In Ontario, for instance, there are 1,941 NORCs housing a total of 217,000 older adults in Ontario (National Institute on Ageing & NORC Innovation Centre, 2022). There are more older adults living in NORCs in Ontario than the number of people living in LTC homes and retirement homes combined (National Institute on Ageing & NORC Innovation Centre, 2022).

With the demand for home care expected to grow by 50 percent by 2031 across Canada, NORC-proponents argue that there’s an urgent need to make use of the natural densities of the naturally occurring communities to improve access and quality of care.

Across the country and within provinces, the home care system is disjointed and not working for many individuals. Recently, the NORC Innovation Centre at the University Health Network published a report exploring how a new model of Ontario home care might develop in the context of the natural density of NORCs, which would result in home that is client-centred, efficient and better for workers.

The recognition of NORCs as a valuable construct for health services innovation came during the COVID-19 pandemic when mobile vaccination teams were able to administer vaccines on-site to thousands of older adults, taking advantage of their natural co-location in these high-density setting.

The report notes that given the ongoing shortage of personal support workers (PSW)s working in home care and the increasing demand for services with an aging population, the NORC-based home care model could be positive not just for those receiving care, but for the home care workers providing care and the health care system more generally.

Best of all, transitioning to the model does not require significant new funding; it’s simply a different and more efficient way to organize and deliver services where natural population densities already exist.

Changing existing health care frameworks is no small feat, but CARP believes that often important policy change is often about changing the systems that are not working well. In this context, NORCs are one of the innovative and creative solutions the could help address the housing and long-term care crisis in Canada.

Read about how Barrie Chapter in Ontario fights tirelessly to bring about change in the area of housing for seniors.