By Christina Autry
“Our number one need in the Five Corners area is affordable housing,” says George Johnson, owner of George E. Johnson Development, Inc. “Everyone in Houston is chomping at the bit for affordable housing. It’s the big thing right now.” I sat down with George, residential and commercial developer, inside the 187,300 sq. ft. Kingdom Builders’ Center, one of the centerpieces of his company’s development in the Five Corners District.
Raised in Port Arthur, George originally came to Houston to attend law school, but his path was diverted when a friend took the real estate exam, and George decided on a whim to give it a try as well. “After I passed the exam, I had a friend who wanted to sell their house. I thought, ‘hey, I have a real estate license, I can do it!’ and that’s how I first got into real estate,” George laughs. Now George’s company, which has since become a family business, is 43 years old.
George attended the public meetings held by the Five Corners District in the early stages of the district’s development, and has been an important community partner. “I met with the board members, and they explained to me what an improvement district was,” remembers George. “They were working on increasing security in the district at the time. The board Chair was Homer Clark, who is very active in the community and a good friend of ours. We wanted to, and still support the district because of the good it does in the area. Tax dollars brought in are used for the upgrade of the overall community,” he says.
Even before the inception of the district in 2007, affordable housing has been a shared value by residents in the area. Windsor Village United Methodist, a megachurch now reaching over 18,000 members, began its development to further this goal twenty years ago.
At that time, George joined the Windsor Village Building Committee, as they sought out a small plot of land intended for the site of a 24-hour prayer center. Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell offered to purchase a 4-acre section of a local landowner’s 234-acre property, but the owner was only willing to sell the whole plot, or none of it. As a result, the church decided to dive in and purchase the entire plot through non-profit Pyramid Residential Community Corporation. This 234-acre zone became known as Pointe 2.3.4.
“What do you do with an area of land that big? We did a study to find out what the community needed most. The first need that jumped off the page was the need for affordable homes,” George recalls. The result was the construction of the thriving 90-acre, 434 home Corinthian Pointe subdivision. “When it was built, it was the largest affordable housing residential construction project in the country. And, it was the fastest selling housing development in the city,” says George.
The huge success of the community encouraged other developers to invest in the Five Corners area, and between 1,100-1,200 additional homes were built. “It jumpstarted and revitalized this area,” says George.
With the influx of homes and families, George’s development company and the community members invested in the Five Corners knew that commercial properties must follow. Texas Children’s, Walgreens, Advanced Auto, fast food options and more have since been added to the development. Ideas for future plans include opening properties with retail shops and restaurants on the first floor, and townhomes on the second, as well as a neighborhood grocery store.
But it didn’t stop there. Corinthian Pointe Assisted Living Village was created on the development, which has spurred the need for a senior care center with more intensive care, a project currently on the drawing table. Other major ventures that have come to fruition are the opening of Jean Hines Caldwell Elementary School in 2005 (named after Kirbyjon’s mother, longtime educator and counselor in HISD), the West Orem Family YMCA in 2007, and Kingdom Builders’ Center in 2010.
To bolster the community development effort, a tri-party agreement between the Five Corners District, TIRZ 9, and TIRZ 25 was signed, allowing all parties to work together for the benefit of residents and businesses. “The TIRZ has done a great deal to improve the area, and we hope to continue to develop affordable housing sites to fulfil the need,” says George. “When people can afford homes, families, schools and communities are all more stable.”
A TIRZ project slated to be built in 2020 is the highly anticipated amphitheater-park within the required 23-acre detention area. “We’ve met with community groups, homeowners’ associations, and sound engineers, to sure that everything is planned effectively. We are also interviewing organizations that will handle the management of the amphitheater and park.” This formerly unused space will soon be one of the many jewels in the crown of the Five Corners District.
George E. Johnson Corporation, Inc. has played an essential role in the Five Corners District, beginning with the transformation of the 234-acre cow pasture into the flourishing residential and commercial development that it is today. As revitalization and development continues into 2020, stakeholders continue to lay out exciting new plans that, as always, prioritize the community and the people who live there over all else.