x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Dubai's community which keeps on going

When they were faced with eviction from their homes, many people simply refused to move. Now, far from being a pile of rubble, their community is thriving once again.

Sheikh Rashid Colony in Dubai has been a lifeline for low-income expatriates for decades.
Sheikh Rashid Colony in Dubai has been a lifeline for low-income expatriates for decades.

DUBAI // From the buzz and bustle of everyday comings and goings in one of Dubai's oldest housing estates, you would never know that only five years ago the residents were handed eviction notices and told that their homes would be demolished.

Out on the edge of the city, far from the gleaming skyscrapers, the beaches and the shopping malls, Sheikh Rashid Colony has clung stubbornly on to life - and every day that life is getting better.

Nestled among government buildings in al Qusais, the estate has been a lifeline for low-income expatriate families for more than 30 years.

"Here is much cheaper than anywhere else," said Moshin Ameen, originally from Kerala, India, and a resident of the estate for 18 years. "I would never move to other areas. I know this place too well."

Such is the attachment to the dilapidated yellow-brown apartment blocks that when final eviction notices were served to 500 residents in 2006 some initially refused to leave.

At the time, many were still paying their rents under old contracts signed years earlier. Some were as low as Dh18,000 a year for a two-bedroom apartment.

Authorities in charge of the housing estate were offering alternative two-bed accommodation in Muhaisnah for around Dh45,000. The new deal was not welcomed by all.

In large white lettering, the words "we won't leave" were chalked on the walls of many of the buildings that were scheduled for demolition.

Perhaps because of the protest, or a sentimental attachment to the district, plans to demolish the buildings were eventually dropped. Instead, the asset management firm Wasl, a unit of the Dubai Real Estate Corporation, decided to refurbish the buildings in 2009.

"Buildings 1 and 2 have been finished and residents have moved in again," said Mohammed Rashid Ahmed, a senior customer service agent at Wasl. "Building 3 will be finished soon, but it is taking a while because there's a lot of work to be done."

He said that rents were around Dh23,000 for a one-bedroom apartment; about the same as elsewhere in the colony.

Mr Ahmed was unclear of the exact age of the estate but it is believed to have been built sometime in the 1970s under the patronage of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al Maktoum, the former Ruler of Dubai.

It was originally designed for low-income Emirati families but later, as many of the former owners grew more prosperous, the apartments were rented out to expatriates.

Many of the shops in the estate began to reflect the changing demographic. One restaurant, Bombay Fast Food, has been a popular community hub for around 30 years.

However, graffiti covers much of the walls and gang signs are common. In one apartment block, which was deserted for a period before refurbishment, a decomposed body was found in 2009.

Kalyan Mamilla, a resident of the development for the past four years, said such cases were rare.

"It's a very peaceful area," said Mr Mamilla, who works nearby at Dubai International Airport. "Most of the residents are families. There are no bachelors living here and there is no trouble on the streets."

Five years on from that mass eviction threat, the bustle of life has returned to the colony. The main courtyard of the estate, which houses dozens of shops and restaurants, is frequented by customers from Sharjah and neighbouring Deira.

Bisher Thekkan, a pharmacist from India, faced losing his job when the building that houses the Central Market Pharmacy was scheduled for demolition.

However, he was not worried then and he is not worried now, reasoning that he could probably find work elsewhere. For now, he enjoys working and living in the estate.

"Many people come in here every day, both upper class and lower class," he said. "They always tell me their stories and I'm always interested to hear them. I couldn't get that anywhere else."