As the boomers enter their twilight years, demographers estimate that as many as 90 percent of them will want to remain at home and maintain as much independence as possible. It’s an understandable, if not age-old, desire, and it seems increasingly realistic thanks to an evolving social-support strategy designed to ensure that older folks have the tools, resources, and clout to age gracefully where they are.
Many communities and neighborhoods share demographic characteristics, including age. According to Governing (June 2009), whether it’s a neighborhood of empty nesters or an apartment complex popular with seniors, the key is to identify and support these “naturally occurring retirement communities,” or NORCs. The NORC Aging in Place Initiative, a program of United Jewish Communities (UJC), has done just that, pinpointing populations in need and buttressing them with a combination of community outreach and traditional social services, such as support for home health aides.
Input from participants is essential to the model’s success. Once a NORC is discovered, organizers canvas residents about their priorities and needs. One survey of residents in Atlanta found that they valued community building over conventional programs like Meals on Wheels. So far UJC has underwritten 40-plus NORCs across the United States. New York state passed legislation to create a neighborhood NORC model in 2006 and now supports more than 50.
There’s hope that more local governments will take interest in supporting NORCs. It’s “one of the most promising ideas for meeting the coming surge of retiring baby boomers,” Governing writes. Even in this economic landscape, the question isn’t “Can government afford to help?” but “Can it afford not to?”