x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Emiratis in run-down property to be rehoused

The Department of Housing is helping Sharjah demolish crumbling homes and rehouse families in rented accommodation.

SHARJAH // Homes in Sharjah deemed uninhabitable are to be demolished and families rehoused in rented accommodation as part of government plans to tackle a housing shortage for Emiratis.

Demand for new homes for Emiratis outstrips supply five-fold every year.

Sharjah Government has the capacity to build 1,000 new homes a year but requests for accommodation have risen to more than 5,000.

Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah, has directed the Department of Housing in Sharjah to speed up the construction of new homes, asking for completion within 18 months instead of the planned five years.

The department, in co-operation with Sharjah Municipality, is compiling a list of buildings that are not suitable to live in and should be earmarked for demolition.

Emirati families living there will be rehoused in rented accommodation - using a newly allocated Dh20million emergency housing fund - until new affordable housing projects are constructed in the emirate.

Sheikh Sultan announced the fund last week during a telephone call to the emirate's popular radio talk show, Khatt-Al Mubashir.

He assured listeners he would personally oversee the speedy execution of the plan.

"The fund was like a gift from a parent to his loved children," said Khalifa Al Tunaiji, the director the Department of Housing in Sharjah. "Our team at the department will be working day and night to deliver decent housing to Emiratis as per the directive." Sharjah's government began building public housing in 1969 and has so far delivered up to 10,000 homes at a cost of Dh4.5billion.

Each application for housing is studied and sorted according to its priorities. "Priorities are sorted out according to need - some elderly people, people staying in dilapidated houses or those staying in rented accommodation are often handled first," said Mr Al Tunaiji.

He added that the government had problems reaching applicants who did not have a phone number or address on their paperwork.

Last year, Sheikh Sultan passed a decree forming the Department of Housing, which now co-ordinates all of the emirate's housing projects.

The department's first move was to announce that it would work with Emirates Islamic Bank to provide grants and loans for all public housing projects - the first time the emirate's government has worked with a private bank to provide public housing.

Loans fall into three categories. Emiratis with a monthly income of less than Dh15,000 will receive Dh650,000 from the government for their home, which does not have to be repaid.

Those who make more than Dh15,000 can get a Dh650,000 loan, payable over five to 25 years, with the government paying any profit.

Under Islamic finance rules, interest is illegal but similar payments, referred to as profit, are not.

The third category, for bigger earners, has not yet been defined, but those who qualify would have to repay the loans, plus profit, at a below-market rate.

Mr Al Tunaiji said all other rules of public housing applied and that homes obtained through the public housing programme could not be sold later.

ykakande@thenational.ae