ABU DHABI // Emiratis have become less happy with the amount of affordable housing available, a survey has found, despite a drop in rents over the past two years.
A report released by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre shows only half (51 per cent) of the UAE nationals surveyed were happy with affordable housing supply.
The level of satisfaction was down from 60 per cent in 2009, even as rents slid and government subsidies continued.
The decreased approval could reflect concerns that housing costs still seem too high. Related problems, such as poor locations or difficulties with power, may also have lowered opinions.
"People's perceptions are based on their expectations," said Mohamed Younis, a senior analyst at the Abu Dhabi Gallup Centre.
"When Emiratis are asked to evaluate their satisfaction levels, it is not likely that they are comparing it to the situation of non-nationals in their country but to how much they 'feel the pinch' of housing costs.
"Despite the housing stipend, the UAE [cities] - particularly Dubai and Abu Dhabi - continue to be among the most expensive 'high cost of living' cities around the globe."
The low marks stood out among the high levels of satisfaction for other services such as health care and education in the survey, titled The United Arab Emirates at 40: a Success Story.
It polled more than 5,100 Emiratis and other Arabs between 2009 and this year.
Abu Dhabi saw the sharpest drop in satisfaction with affordable housing among respondents, to 50 per cent in the first half of this year from 66 per cent in 2009.
The emirate has struggled with a housing shortage in recent years. As of 2009, Emiratis seeking government housing in the capital faced waiting lists of up to five years. Other families share villas to save rent, even though the authorities discourage this.
The dissatisfaction in Abu Dhabi is "due to continued high residential prices in the absence of any significant new supply", said Deepak Jain, the regional head of strategic consulting at Jones Lang LaSalle.
To ease overcrowding, the emirate's Urban Planning Council has ordered developers to allot a portion of their properties to affordable housing.
It also plans to build 50,000 villas for nationals over the next 20 years. About a quarter of those will come on to the market in the next four years but the first homes, in Al Falah, will not be ready until next year. A committee began preparing a list of recipients this week.
In Dubai and Sharjah, satisfaction levels among Emiratis and other Arabs dropped from 2009 to last year, then rebounded this year.
In those three years in Dubai they moved from 45 per cent to 30 to 47, and in Sharjah they went from 48 per cent to 33 to 54.
The drop from 2009 to last year was surprising as lower rents should have improved satisfaction, said Mr Jain.
They should have also given many residents a chance to upgrade, for example, from Sharjah to Dubai.
"The reduction in satisfaction in 2010 does not add up," Mr Jain said.
Other factors such as the quality of the neighbourhood may have influenced opinions, he said. In Sharjah and the Northern Emirates, residents may have been upset about power cuts.
Some Emiratis may have disliked living in remote locations or in areas without community facilities.
But pinpointing one neighbourhood problem may be difficult as Emiratis live in diverse areas. In Dubai, they opt to live in the villa blocks of Al Barsha and in the high rises of the Marina, said Wassim Abdallah, a consultant at the property company Better Homes.
The dip in satisfaction last year may also have reflected respondents' views on the overall property sector, said Mr Younis.
"This question may be serving as a proxy for their overall feeling of the housing market," he said.
Consistent with that explanation is that in the other emirates, where housing prices did not fall, the rating levels remained steady.
They dropped only slightly from 44 per cent in 2009 to 43 last year to 41 this year.
Tomorrow, an in-depth look at the survey's findings on health