x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dubai housing still unaffordable for many

Despite the dip in housing prices in Dubai, many people are still struggling to find accommodation.

Despite the dip in housing prices in Dubai, many people, including these homeless men in Karama Park, are still struggling to find accommodation.
Despite the dip in housing prices in Dubai, many people, including these homeless men in Karama Park, are still struggling to find accommodation.

DUBAI // Bheemashekar Myadari, 22 and jobless, sleeps in a park.

Peter Feng, 28, an interior designer, shares a two-bedroom apartment with 13 other people.

Vijila Aneesh, 26, a housewife, cares for her baby all day in a near-windowless home.

Though rents in Dubai have halved in recent years, they remain too high for many residents, who live in the shadows of the emirate's housing landscape, often in legal grey areas.

Government bodies crack down on illegal arrangements, but not systematically enough to prevent loopholes.

Some developers offer "affordable housing" units, but they base their prices on market demands rather than caps set by the Government.

"We need a formal definition of what 'affordable housing' means within the Dubai property market," said Leah James, a manager at Better Homes estate agency.

At least 100 men sleep in three parks in Bur Dubai and Sharjah, which is against the law, said Shashikala Devanapally, a doctor in Karama who gives the men food and other assistance.

Most are labourers staying in the country illegally after their employer stopped paying them. Often the firms went bankrupt or refused to pay injured workers.

Some men promised hefty fees to employment agencies for jobs that never panned out. Even if they could clear their papers and afford the airfare home, once back, they would face debt collectors, she said.

The police take immediate action against illegal residents, who might be tempted to steal to support themselves, said Lt Col Ahmad bin Ghalaita, the Dubai Police director of crime prevention.

But action may be taken on a case-by-case basis: "When police ask me what I am doing here, I say, I am going back to India, and they leave me alone," said Mr Myadari, an electrician who said he has not been paid for four months.

In truth, he does not know how to retrieve his passport from his boss, let alone pay his way home.

During the day he hopes to get a day's work to earn Dh50. At night he curls up on the grass alongside 20 other people, with no blankets for cool nights and no relief from hot nights.

"Summer, winter, it's the same," he said.

Ms Aneesh, on the other hand, is perhaps too well protected from the elements.

Tucked between a warehouse and a store, her two-bedroom home in Karama gets very little light and has no street-facing windows. Its front door is cut into a concrete wall facing the pavement.

She and her sister spend their days inside while their husbands work. They cook, clean, look after Ms Aneesh's baby girl and watch Indian television in a living room decked with silk flowers, office chairs and a crib.

"It gets lonely," she said.

The place, near her husband's office, costs only Dh3,000 a month - less than half the price of a two-bedroom apartment in a proper building in the area.

Omar Abdulrahman, the head of inspections at Dubai Municipality building department, said he wasn't sure if the lack of windows violated Dubai housing codes, which follow international standards and cover ventilation and sunlight.

"We have some of the best practices in the world. There is a standard for everything," he said.

With so many housing units in Dubai, though, officials can only manage random inspections to monitor standards.

Their bigger target is house-sharing, particularly in villas.

As many as 50 families can cram into one home, block hallways and set up makeshift stoves, which is hazardous, said Mr Abdulrahman.

House-sharing happens in apartments, too, like the two-bedroom unit in International City that Mr Feng shares with 13 colleagues, all Chinese.

One bedroom is partitioned by sheets of wood. A manager sleeps in the front half and four labourers in the back, which is accessible only via the balcony it shares with the living room. The living room is partitioned into a corridor and three rooms, each housing two labourers. Broken chandeliers dangle above.

Mr Feng and two fellow office workers share the second bedroom, which is just wider than two twins beds. Suitcases and boxes sit in stacks around the room. Bowls crowd a plastic table and condiments cover the top of a mini-fridge. "Right now I feel like I can handle this," said Mr Feng. "I have enough to keep me occupied."

He will reconsider things if his salary here - Dh5,000 - sinks below his salary back home of 5,000 yuan (Dh2,800).

He tracks the exchange rate closely. "If they reach parity," he said, "there's no point in staying."



* With additional reporting by Wafa Issa