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ALFs or NORCs -- From a housing crisis to a current business opportunity?

Juxtapose this.  1) There's a modest trend towards Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs), which are communities in which volunteers or paid teams organize ways to provide assistance to seniors who want to or need to stay in their homes. There are 2000 NORCs in the US today, according to the WSJ article.  2) Now according to this Times article, consider that many elderly people can't sell their homes right now and therefore are unable to move into assisted living facilities (ALFs) as they might wish. These elderly people need some assistance and their children are understandably worried about them.

Certainly with $2000-5000/month rent or $100K - 300K entrance fees, if the house isn't sold, moving into one is impossible for most seniors.  And while moving into an ALF may look like the most attractive option to seniors, it shouldn't be the only choice, especially during this time where homes aren't selling and seniors' well-being may be at risk. 

But there is a business opportunity and an impressive community service that can and should fill this void. A business modeled itself after a NORC, like Avenidas Village -- affilliated with a non-profit in California or Beacon Hill Village in Boston. But it could also be a contracted service of or part of existing assisted living facilities. These sub-businesses go out into the communities and offer a well-advertised menu of assistance services to elderly in their home, including a recommended list of home care providers (like home health aide, home cleaning, shopping) and also provide transportation services so that home-bound seniors can get out and meet other seniors at senior centers or at assisted living activities -- as they would if they lived there.

Why would an assisted living facility do this? Because if the housing market 'unfreezes', the customer is familiar and eager to move in. Because the ALF becomes a recognized centerpiece of the community -- rather than an insular island within the community. Think of how many hours per day ALF busses sit parked. Think of the fact that ALF staff are licensed to drive those busses  ALFs (and their independent living and continuing care colleagues) are the obvious providers of this type of service. They should be because the seniors in their communities are prospective customers to be -- and could be customers of these services if they were modestly-enough priced. In fact some ALFs provide adult day services today, recognizing that as conditions change, these individuals may move into the facility.

But if ALFs don't see this as an opportunity, why shouldn't an entrepreneur start a membership-based virtual ALF business in their area, working with local ALFs and area agencies on aging? It could be advertised as providing the benefits of assisted living while you're still in your own home.  With an annual membership fee of $800-1000, with some form of transportation (like the ALF bus) available for field trips, with a small staff to serve as a service focal point. For the membership fee, providers would vet a list of local services and use scheduling software package that enables seniors to sign up (either themselves or by calling) for use of any of a vetted list of home maintenance and care services. And the new virtual ALF would resell home-enablment products that adress a number of isolation and safety-related issues. All together these cost less per month than one month in assisted living -- videophone, alarm service with video monitoring, an automated telephone medication reminder, a printing mailbox, email appliance, or a working donated HP Senior PC.  Adult children would be the likely customer for this 'Staying Home' package, sharing the costs across siblings.

Now bundle all those services together and arrange for a home evaluation from a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) to make sure the current home is safe and accessible -- without negatively impacting future resale value (removable grab bars and ramps, for example). Work with three or four Assisted Living Facilities that have waiting lists of people who are unable to sell their homes. Make sure the local Council on Aging and Senior Centers know about it and are collaborating partners. Bottom line, fill this void now and become an essential local business for as long as there are seniors who want or must remain in their home.





Laurie, you have the mind of an entrepreneur! There is certainly a lot of need and opportunity. Note that some of the biggest national commercial firms offering residences for elders are faced with a tough economic challenge--all those seniors who can't sell their homes in this market can't move.