Affordable Housing

A New Life for the Century-Old Anna Mann House in Kerns

Turns out, affordable housing and historic preservation can coexist.

By Karly Quadros March 30, 2022 Published in the Spring 2022 issue of Portland Monthly


ere’s a thought: What if preserving Portland’s stock of historic homes and providing desperately needed affordable housing didn’t have to be at odds with each other?

It’s possible, despite the oft-internecine back-and-forth that’s plagued the city’s development push in recent years. The Anna Mann house is proof.

This Tudor Revival–style mansion, which was once a home for the elderly and then a yoga ashram, is on the border between Laurelhurst and Kerns, two pricey close-in neighborhoods. And by next year, the building is slated to become 128 low-income apartments. One-bedroom apartments there will rent for as low as $476 per month; two-bedrooms will start at $569, though some residents will pay closer to market price.

“It’s been interesting to me to hear some people’s viewpoint that historic preservation and more affordable housing don’t go together,” says Julie Garver, housing development director for Innovative Housing Inc, which has transformed four historic buildings in Old Town and Southeast into affordable apartment complexes, among other projects.

When IHI turned its sights on the hundred-plus-year-old Anna Mann building, the group wasn’t the first bid and certainly wasn’t the highest. But the prior owners responded to the vision of beautiful homes for low-income Portlanders in a building they wanted to preserve. 

“I think it’s the best of all worlds from the neighborhood perspective,” says Jay Harris, chair of the Kerns Neighborhood Association. “We’re thrilled that this lot, which very easily could have been sold for a lot more money for something more commercial, is going to be preserved in a more historically and height-appropriate way, and it’s going to house people who haven’t necessarily been able to live here.”

The Anna Mann house was designed in 1910 by architectural firm Whitehouse and Fouilhoux, which was also responsible for downtown’s posh University Club and North Portland’s Jefferson High School. The manor’s features include dark-stained Douglas fir woodwork, wide, arcing windows, carved stone fireplaces, and distinctive crown molding—not to mention ample trees and sprawling lawns. 

Much of the existing design will be preserved: old parlors and grand dining rooms will become communal spaces while a vast meditation space with vaulted ceilings and towering windows will be reimagined as six two-story townhouses. Design input surveys of potential residents were conducted, and IHI also took into consideration public priorities for previous restoration projects.  

Additionally, IHI is constructing two new buildings for even more housing units on the eastern and southeastern edges of the 3.1-acre property. The apartments are also intended for low-income households, especially families, immigrants, and people of color, with wraparound services and a full-time staff member to help residents of all the buildings maintain housing stability. That includes the participation of mental health nonprofit New Narrative (previously Luke-Dorf), which will provide off-site care and addiction services.

Builders broke ground in December 2021 and are expected to finish construction by June 2023. 

“We all have to keep thinking out of the box on how to provide [affordable housing] any way we can in ways that make financial sense, whether they’re high-rise apartments in downtown or garden apartments in the suburbs or historic projects,” says Garver.