Supportive Services Programs in Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. What Organizational Entities are Associated with Services Programs in NORCs?

NORC service programs may have their own organizational structure (e.g., lead agency plus service contractors), they may build on an organization within the NORC (e.g., a co-op board or residents' council), or both. If no organization exists within the NORC, the program may serve as the catalyst to establish one. If multiple organizations are involved, the roles they play and how well they work together can affect the implementation of the service program in the NORC.

Lanspery and Callahan point out a critical difference between NORC services programs and integrated service networks.29 In the latter, a set range of services is marketed to a membership group, while in the former, the emphasis is on giving discretion and control over the types of services included to the membership group. The authors find that having identifiable stakeholders with an interest in cooperation is an important factor in implementing services programs.

Yalowitz also emphasizes the importance of having a governance structure to determine program configuration and services, and of clearly spelling out the relationships and responsibilities within the governance structure.30 The experts we spoke with noted that a weak governance structure is often the result of the organizing entities, whether external or internal, not clearly defining the mission or purpose of the program.

The various types of organizations found in NORCs mirrors the various types of NORCs themselves. A suburban NORC may have no organizational entity of its own apart from the local government. On the other hand, an apartment-based NORC almost invariably has some form of building management and may also have resident councils or recreation committees. How a NORC is structured is an important factor in developing and managing a services program, since the structure can serve as a contact point for the services program within the community and a way to communicate with community residents.

Residents may have varying degrees of involvement with the internal NORC organization depending on whether it is self-generated, such as a condominium board, or comes from an outside agency, such as a community services agency. How successful NORC supportive services programs are may depend on whether service providers are able to establish strong relationships with the NORC organizational structure and its residents. Experts noted that struggles often arise between professionals and non-professionals who may not describe their work in the same terms. Experts stressed the importance of developing a common language among the members of the NORC partnership, including housing managers, social and health care workers, and residents.

The published literature sheds very little light on the internal organization of NORCs and the role it may play in supportive services programs. What discussion there is does not necessarily apply across all types of NORCs. For example, Lanspery and Callahan characterize NORCs as "closed" or "open" according to the relationship between the community's ownership and management.31 A closed NORC has one management entity; examples are individual owners or managers of apartment buildings or trailer parks. An open NORC shares management among two or more homeowners or management entities. This distinction is used to differentiate, for example, investor-owned apartment buildings from such living arrangements as co-op buildings, condominiums, or neighborhoods with single-family homes or row houses. Experts cited several examples of NORC supportive services programs that had been developed internally by active tenant associations or co-op boards, or where tenant associations and management had worked closely together on general resident issues.

The organization of the services programs also varies. Since NORC residents need assorted different services, services programs usually involve several agencies. Landsberg et al. note that having a key agency take the lead is important, and that problems within agencies and between agencies can interfere with service delivery.32 In a similar vein, Lanspery and Callahan find that the lead agency should be clearly defined and relatively autonomous. In the Penn South Cooperative, the board of directors of the cooperative contracts with an oversight agency to provide services.33

Subject matter experts agreed that the NORC's internal structure and the service program's organization could affect communication with residents and how responsive services programs are to residents' needs and preferences. Several experts emphasized that residents need to be involved in decisions and exercise some control in the organization and governance of the services program. They cautioned against service providers taking over to meet the needs of their own organization. In NORCs with co-op boards, building owners or managers, or condominium associations, a unit already exists that could act on behalf of residents and negotiate with service providers. In the absence of such structures (for example, as in most suburban neighborhoods), the service providers, by default, provide the organizational structure.

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