Not ready for a retirement village? A NORC could be the answer

Leaving the family home can be a big step forward, but it opens the door to the next chapter. Houses forever highlights retirement options in style.

New Zealand is full of NORC.

If this term is unfamiliar, think about what Tauranga, Nelson, and the Kāpiti Coast have in common. If you have responded to the sun and an older population, you are right.

A “natural retirement community” might be a suburb, a street, or even a single apartment building, which has a large proportion of older residents – but that wasn’t intended.

Jellicoe Towers has stood the test of time well - as many of its residents would agree.

Duncan Winder / Supplied

Jellicoe Towers has stood the test of time well – as many of its residents would agree.

They can thrive if people move into a neighborhood when they are young and never leave it, says Judith A Davey, senior associate at the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University in Wellington. Or environmental factors like climate and scenery can attract people to the area at an older age.

Davey lives in Jellicoe Towers, a historic building on Wellington Terrace, designed by architect Allan Wild and built in 1968.

“The modernist simplicity of the one-apartment-per-floor tower … has stood the test of time,” said the 2020 NZIA Wellington Architecture Awards judges. Davey and his friends, some of whom have lived there for decades, are said to be largely agree.

Judith A Davey says some of her friends have lived at Jellicoe Towers in central Wellington for decades.


Judith A Davey says some of her friends have lived at Jellicoe Towers in central Wellington for decades.

“Growing old together as a friendship group is a good way to do it,” she said.

“I’m almost 70 years old and people say to me, ‘When are you going to move to a village?’ And I say, “I don’t want to, but the others do, and that’s fine.” Choice is the main thing.

“As I got older I gradually moved closer to the city center, but living in Courtney Place would be a bit noisy. The terrace is a climb, but I tell myself that it makes me feel good, ”she said.

Jellicoe Towers on the terrace is a NORC.  Some of Judith Davey's friends have lived there for over 20 years.


Jellicoe Towers on the terrace is a NORC. Some of Judith Davey’s friends have lived there for over 20 years.

Where are the New Zealand NORCs?

According to Statistics NZ data, the places with the highest proportion of people aged 65 and over are Orewa, Thames and Foxton Beach in the North Island, and parts of Nelson and Mosgiel in the South Island. .

The height of each peak on our map indicates the number over 65 in that area – the taller the tower, the more people of retirement age living there. The shadow of the spike shows the percentage that they make up of the general population there.

NORCs can serve as a middle ground between independent living and long-term care, reducing the need to move early from the family home to a retirement village.

In the United States, they are officially recognized and receive support. US NORCs might have social services, health care providers, and housing managers – much like the supply of a college hostel.

“Services matter as much, if not more, than housing when we talk about how we can allow people to stay at home longer,” said Davey. There is no bus stop near the Jellicoe Towers, for example, which means residents have to drive or be fit enough to climb the hill, to stay. Some of Davey’s neighbors have home caregivers.

New Zealand's NORCs are based in cities that receive some of the highest hours of sunshine.


New Zealand’s NORCs are based in cities that receive some of the highest sunshine hours.

Davey believes the NORCs here in New Zealand could be used to pilot adaptations suitable for older people, such as widening trails, installing benches and increasing pedestrian crossing times on roads, which all a big difference for older communities.

Adults people aged 65 and over are expected to represent 19-21% of the population in 2030, up from 16 percent in 2020. Mat Brown, of Warren and Mahoney Architects, says developers have a lot to learn as we scale up housing nationwide.

Today’s retirement villages “offer security and facilities but most of all, they offer community. You don’t buy the unit, you pay for the opportunity to live there. This is fundamental to their business success.

“We have had conversations with clients about building apartments specially designed for retirees.

“Should there be a building manager there in an emergency?” Is there a need for 24 hour staff to help you with things like shopping for groceries?

“Or the residents may be between 10 and 30 years old to need a board-funded apartment, but in a NORC they might only need a little muscle when they buy a new sofa. A kind of care-lite.

Kāinga Ora incorporates a percentage of accessible units into its developments, but there is no obligation for private sector developers to do the same.

“Ten years from now there will be massive demand for housing from seniors, but we’re busy building things that won’t meet their needs,” Brown said. “Until the demand is there, the developer won’t build it.”


New Zealand’s population is growing and aging at a rapid rate.

Everyone benefits from neighborhood amenities, “but older people spend more time at home.

“These are the immediate beneficiaries, or the people who suffer most from difficult, dangerous or hostile neighborhoods,” said psychology professor Christine Stephens of Massey University.

Stephens says support is needed most in places people cannot afford to relocate, rather than places where people have moved as a lifestyle choice.

For example, Shannon, south of Palmerston North, sees people coming into retirement because the rates are so low. “This is exactly the kind of place where a NORC charity would be valuable.”

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