Oak Park is a community that values its older population. Over the years Oak Park has fostered a variety of governmentally supported senior facilities such as Mills Park Tower, Heritage House, and the Oaks, as well as a number of privately developed facilities such as the Oak Park Arms. More recently we have also seen tremendous growth in the number of upscale supportive-housing facilities, such as Brookdale Village, Belmont Village, and the soon-to-be-opened American Place.

What is often not mentioned in discussing senior housing is the number of facilities that were not specifically built to serve an older population but have become retirement housing through the natural process of aging. There are a number of these naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) in the village. A good example is the building where I currently live. It is a 68-unit condominium building built in the 1970s with five stories and, most importantly, elevators.

When my wife and I began to think about downsizing, we developed a mental checklist of amenities that we were looking for in our retirement home. These included easy access to transportation, walkability to restaurants and other recreation activities, and an active community. We also wanted the security of knowing that the building had an elevator that we could use when it becomes necessary.

After a long search, we found our current home and are happy that we made the move. We also learned that we are not unique in seeking this type of housing. More than half of the people living in our building are over the age of 60. Some of these residents are longtime owners who have aged in place, while a sizable number are newcomers like us. Our goal was not specifically to move into senior housing, but we have found that we are living in an informal senior facility, or a NORC.

NORCs come in many varieties. Some are formally structured to include organized activities and may have wellness, nutrition, and educational programs. Some may have contracted for medical and social services. Others, like our building, are less organized but still offer a variety of social, cultural, and educational opportunities. Because there is no age restriction in these buildings, they also offer the opportunity for intergenerational living that is not available in age-restricted facilities.

As middle-aged people begin to consider their options for retirement housing, I would encourage them not to overlook the informal network of retirement housing known as NORCs. They can be a happy alternative to age-restricted retirement housing.

Edward Solan is the retired executive director of the Oak Park Residence Corporation and is a member of Arbor West Neighbors, a grassroots organization that advocates on behalf of older adults.

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