x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Housing fund chief says needy Emiratis take priority

Loans and endowments for Emirati homes can not be given in less than two years, FNC told

ABU DHABI // The head of the body that distributes housing grants and loans to Emiratis has told the FNC it would be impossible to deal with applications in less than two years.

After repeated calls from FNC members for applications to be processed within a set time, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak insisted the current system of prioritising applicants was the best way.

Applications to the Sheikh Zayed Housing Programme are usually dealt with within six years. Successful applicants are given a free plot of land and up to Dh750,000 to build a house.

The money is either a loan, or a grant for families earning less than Dh15,000 a month.

In a three-hour debate Sheikh Hamdan, the chairman of the programme, said housing assistance was based on priority, not a specified time.

Members called for Emiratis to be told at the time of application when their loan or allowance would come through, but he said that would not happen.

"Working on a timeframe would be very difficult," Sheikh Hamdan said. "Maybe they are a priority today but tomorrow it could be someone else who needs it more. We do not work in time, but who needs it more."

Asked again, he said it would be impossible, as would processing applications in less than two years.

But Sheikh Hamdan said the processing time should soon decrease to about three years, and possibly two in future.

Some members said there had been more than 45,000 applications since the programme was set up in 2002, and called for its budget to be increased from last year's Dh1.2 billion.

Although officials from the programme had complained of a lack of funding during private meetings with members of the council's Islamic affairs, endowments and public utilities committee, Sheikh Hamdan insisted it was not the problem.

"Even if we talk about it, it will not help in anything," he said.

Members also asked Sheikh Hamdan to consider increasing the size of loans from the current amount of between Dh500,000 and Dh750,000.

"A loan of Dh500,000 is good for a medium family but not for a family of 10," said Hamad Al Rahoumi (Dubai). "Housing loans need to be Dh1.5 million for a big family."

Dr Abdulrahim Al Shahin (Ras Al Khaimah) said the size of the grant meant Emiratis needed to borrow another Dh500,000 from a bank to build a house.

"In the end they are in a tornado trying to pay back all the loans," Dr Al Shahin said. "Dh500,000 is not enough."

Sheikh Hamdan defended the cap on grants, saying they covered 70 per cent of the cost of building a house. Increasing it was a matter for the Cabinet, he said.

Dr Al Shahin said the grants could be increased if other emirates contributed to the fund, rather than just Abu Dhabi.

Members also complained of Emiratis not receiving land even after their grant had been approved.

They said 1,631 grants were approved for families in Ajman, but the authorities there only provided 900 plots of land.

Sheikh Hamdan said the fund did not approve just any piece of land.

"We have conditions," he said. "We do not accept any piece of land anywhere."

He said 7,000 people would be granted homes this year.

The committee put 18 recommendations to the council but no vote was taken.

osalem@thenational.ae