x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Quality housing is key for all incomes

Take our poll: Cracking down on shared villas is reasonable, but more can be done to provide adequate housing for all.

The upturn in the housing market in Dubai may be good news for landlords and property developers, but for many families struggling with low salaries, 2012 has brought with it a whole new set of troubles.

As The National reported on Tuesday, housing inspectors from Dubai Municipality are getting tougher with tenants who continue to illegally share villas with other families. The first half of the year saw over 300 offenders, some of whom point to rising rents - 6 per cent for apartments and 9 per cent for villas - for their arrangements.

Their predicaments are understandable. Even officials cracking down on villa-sharing can see where the issue lies. "If rents go up, surely they will come back again to share," said Jabir Ahmed Al Ali, head of the inspection unit at the Dubai buildings department. "If that happens, we will work harder."

To be sure, the intention behind the ruling to ending villa-sharing is laudable: to decrease the risk of fires and improve health and safety in general. Most villas are not designed to be shared by more than one family. Water and electricity consumption, for a start, skyrockets when utilities are overburdened, placing undue pressure on villa infrastructure. Parking spaces will also not likely be sufficient to cater for several families.

The solution, clearly, is to provide enough high-quality affordable housing for low- to medium-income families to ensure that the unsafe practice of sharing is no longer the best, or only, option.

As things stand now, many families in some parts of the country can afford to rent only in older buildings. And many of these are dilapidated properties and slated to be torn down. For example, a few weeks ago the residents of the Sheikh Rashid Colony, also known as "the 7,000" complex in Karama, were required to vacate their homes by the developer as the residence was deemed "unsafe for residents and pedestrians". Many of those forced to leave could barely afford new accommodation.

Low- to medium-income families are an integral part of Dubai's, and indeed the country's, economy. It is time that property developers start catering for their needs too. Until that happens, blanket policies to prohibit villa sharing will do more to harm the country's economic balance than to correct the sharers' visible plight.