What is the Difference Between a NORC and a NOSS? 

Q. My parents are deciding whether to stay in their home or to downsize to an apartment. Currently, they live in a single-family home in an established neighborhood, where most of their neighbors are original owners who have lived in their homes since 1965. The location they live in is so convenient, so most people end up staying there as long as they can. Since this is the case, I read in a recent community newsletter, that the community is becoming what’s known as a Natural Occurring Retirement Community (NORC).

After my brother, sister, and I moved out ten years ago, my parents indicated that the house has become too big and too much of a burden for them to take care of, which is why they are considering the move to an apartment. They have some friends in a nearby apartment complex, and my mom is social, so I am sure she would make new connections with others their age and younger. My mom said her friend describes the apartment community they are considering as a Naturally Occurring Support System (NOSS).

Can you please clarify for me the difference between a NORC and a NOSS, and the advantages of each? Thanks in advance for your help!

A. Many seniors wish to age safely in their homes and neighborhoods, and others hope to downsize to a smaller place. Among the many initiatives to facilitate aging in place, two prominent community-centered models that have emerged are Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities(NORCs) and Naturally Occurring Support Systems (NOSSs), both of which have “naturally” developed to address the discrepancy between how communities are designed and what older adults need to age in place.


The term NORC was coined in 1984 by Michael Hunt, a professor of urban planning at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It denotes a geographically defined community in which at least 40% of the population is 60 or older and live in their own homes. NORCs can take many forms, ranging from vibrant communities that encourage seniors to stay engaged, to sad places where seniors live in isolation.

AARP has reported in recent years that 25% to 36% of seniors live in NORCs; however, the Administration on Aging puts the figure at 17%. Whichever estimate is accurate, some NORCs thrive while others wither. What typically makes the difference are Supportive Services Programs (SSPs), usually the result of partnerships between local organizations and vetted providers.

The following are some advantages of NORCs:

• As NORCs evolve into NORC-SSPs, they typically offer social services, health care management, education, recreation and volunteer opportunities. Many also have added adult day care, meals, transportation, home care, legal and financial advice, home safety improvements, mental health counseling and disease management.
• NORCs are viewed as a cost-effective aging-in-place model.
• Those with strong attachments to their community can stay in their neighborhood and stick with what they know. Moving elsewhere means leaving all that behind and starting all over at somewhere new and unfamiliar.
• NORCs are good if homeowners are unable to find acceptable housing alternatives. For instance, in Washington, DC, dwelling options (especially apartments) that satisfy the needs of retirees are scarce and expensive.

A disadvantage of a NORC is that houses may not be accessible for a senior’s needs, and may need to be remodeled. To provide adequate comfort, safety, and mobility, various elements of older homes including stairs, railings, hallways, kitchens, bathrooms and more, typically require some modification. Another disadvantage is that most seniors who live in NORCs are empty nesters, leaving them to maintain a home that may be a lot bigger than they need.


A Naturally Occurring Support System (NOSS) is it a relatively new term for a concept that has been around for centuries. Most of us have a NOSS on some level (with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.). NOSSs are ideal, because it makes good economic sense to share support, rather than pay for everything we need – whether it’s for pet care, tech help, yard care tools, home maintenance advice, and more.

These are some advantages of NOSSs.

• You can buy time and extend resources: When your needs aren’t great, NOSSs can often provide enough support. Sometimes they can even help with growing needs. They also stretch financial resources, because they enable you to stave off moving to assisted living or a skilled care facility until a time when your needs grow beyond the NOSS and supplemented help from a home care company.
• It is good for socialization and to avoid loneliness: Seniors who are part of a NOSS can go to activities together, participate in the book clubs, and watch out for each other. Those who are part of a NOSS foster connections with neighbors and peers and band together to make where they live a better place.
• It can expand and extend quality of life: Seniors can help other seniors in areas where they need help and lend a hand in others where they can provide assistance. For instance, a resident with a significant hearing loss can pair up with a neighbor with very limited vision to stay active and involved. Cognitively intact and impaired residents could bond together and enjoy a wide range of activities and interests. Combining your strengths with the strengths of your peers enables many to age in place longer and delay higher support moves – resulting in big cost savings and extended quality of life.

When a NORC or a NOSS is no Longer an Option

Most people would prefer to age in their home in a NORC or be part of a NOSS for as long as possible, but even with the aging-in-place supports described above, they often can’t. If you or a loved one cannot live independently and are showing signs that they need more assistance, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Whether the outcome is assisted living, or nursing home care in the future, it is prudent to plan ahead, especially since skilled care facilities costs $10,000 to $14,000 a month in the Metro DC area. Please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for a consultation to discuss Medicaid Asset Protection Planning, or the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into assisted living or nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you and your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life, whether at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home.:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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