A builder, two developers, and a home remodeler are winners of the 2008 Livable Communities Awards, announced today by AARP and the National Association of Home Builders.

The awards, now in their second year, are designed to honor innovative thinking in home and community design that enhances the daily comfort, ease, and safety of homeowners. Judging criteria included universal design features, ease of maintenance, energy efficiency, and exterior and landscape design.

"The winners of the 2008 Livable Communities Awards have clearly taken note of the increasing demand for more accessible, livable homes and communities, and are on the leading edge of change," Sandy Dunn, chairman of the board of the NAHB and a home builder from Point Pleasant, W. Va., said in a statement. "The trend-setting homes and communities we honor with the 2008 Livable Communities Awards meet the demands of both today's and tomorrow's homeowners by combining easy living with inviting design." 

Judges for this year's competition were impressed not only with the innovation displayed by the winning entries, but also with the degree to which universal design principles were incorporated into the projects and their emphasis on accessibility at multiple price points.

"Universal design is a very misunderstood term," says Rebecca Stahr, president and chief executive officer of LifeSpring Environs, an Atlanta-based consultant serving 50-plus housing market professionals, and one of this year's judges. "How it's delivered determines whether it's seamless and beautiful or awkward and institutional."

Tampa, Fla.-based New Millennial Homes won the award for a home up to 2,500 square feet with The Freedom Home. The Craftsman-style 1,200-square-foot house was inspired by troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with injuries that required special care, says Mike Shrenk, chief executive officer of New Millennial Homes. The name "comes from the fact that it's life-enhancing," he says. "The home will continue to provide freedom if you have life events that limit movement."

Starting at $120,000 without a lot (New Millennial Homes is primarily an infill builder), the Freedom Home also addresses the fact that the buyers for whom it was designed–retirees and the disabled–are likely to be on fixed incomes. But Shrenk notes that the house has attractive features for all types of buyers.

"Our approach is on the versatile side of it–it's adaptive and active," he says. "We wanted to design a home that could meet anyone's active needs right now."

The other winning entries are:

Developer up to 250 units–The Winery for Vineyard Lanein Bainbridge Island, Wash. A former vineyard, Vineyard Lane is a 45-condominium campus on four acres within walking distance to downtown Bainbridge Island and close to the city of Seattle. Judges called it "classy, comfortable, and livable."    

Developer over 250 units–HallKeen, The Braverman Co., and New Boston Fund for Winooski Fallsin Winooski, Vt.  Residents have a real sense of small-town community and identity close to shopping, transportation, two college campuses, and the state's largest hospital. 

Remodeler over $75,000–Interior Design Details for the Rathbun Residence in Brea, Calif.

Winners will be honored at a dinner in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10, and will also be featured in AARP The Magazine, the nation's most widely circulated magazine. 

Coinciding with the announcement of the honorees is a new AARP survey on the housing preferences of baby boomers ages 45 to 64. One in four of those surveyed said they expect to move from their current home in the future; most of them will be looking for a single-level house that is more comfortable or convenient. About half said they'll look for a newer house or a smaller house.

Citing a study reported in the Journal of the American Planning Association, AARP spokesperson Nancy Thompson says that by 2050, 21% of American households will have a resident with a disability that makes walking or climbing stairs difficult. "If people aren't thinking about a user-friendly house, they should be," she says. "If you project forward the likelihood of at least a temporary disability, it makes sense."

Pat Curry is senior editor for BUILDER magazine.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.