x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Staying put: last few tenants of Dubai colony

A developer plans to demolish a complex that has provided affordable housing to low-income residents for more than 30 years.

A view of a family's belongings inside of the Sheikh Rashid Colony in Karama.
A view of a family's belongings inside of the Sheikh Rashid Colony in Karama.

DUBAI // More than a week after a final deadline to move expired, a few of the 900 low-income families at the Sheikh Rashid Colony in Karama are resolutely staying put.

They remain in the mostly deserted complex of 17 buildings, clinging to the hope that the developers might reverse the decision to demolish their homes, which have been deemed unsafe.

"I don't know where to go," said Ahmed Omer, a Sudanese expatriate who has lived in Block 7 with his wife and daughter for the past 11 years.

"I can't afford the rents in Dubai and am looking in Sharjah and Ajman now. They have put us in a critical situation. For several years we have been paying low rents. We didn't plan to pay more."

The vibrant community has been home to several expatriate communities, mostly South Asian. The complex was built in 1978 on the orders of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the emirate's Ruler at the time, to provide low-cost housing for low-income families.

Similar buildings with the same name were also constructed in Al Qusais and Satwa about the same time, but the Satwa buildings were demolished more than 10 years ago. In Al Qusais, the flats were renovated in 2009 and the rents increased after initial eviction notices were withdrawn.

The three-storey Karama blocks earned their nickname, "the 7,000 buildings", because of the Dh7,000 annual rent that stayed unchanged for decades amid the soaring Dubai property market. Three years ago rents increased to Dh35,000 for new tenants but still to only Dh10,000 for existing ones,.

Dubai Municipality ordered the demolition of the complex because it was ruled "unsafe for residents and pedestrians" and the buildings were beyond repair.

Last June the developer, Wasl Properties, notified tenants of the 880 homes that the buildings were to be demolished, and in October they set a deadline of June 30 this year - "giving residents a full year to plan moving and allowing children to finish their school academic year", said Abdulla Ishaq, head of Wasl's leasing and customer service department.

"Since then, Wasl has sent multiple reminders to the tenants by letters, emails, calls and SMS," he said.

The developer has offered alternative housing in its other properties, with a month rent-free and the usual 5 per cent commission waived. It also offered a 25 per cent rent discount in many of its other properties, although that deal expired at the end of last month.

One Emirati family said the developer could have refurbished the apartments and increased the rents instead of demolishing the buildings, as it did in Al Qusais.

Residents of the Karama flats say they have nowhere else they can afford to go. "We are poor people," said Fatima Mohammed, a divorcee who lives with her two children.

"My salary is not enough. I have tried several places but they cost at least Dh40,000. I have loans to pay, too. If they renovate and give it back to us, it's good. They can increase the rents nominally. But where will we go now?"

V P Pillai, an Indian expatriate who recently retired and plans to return to India, said: "Everybody thought they would extend the deadline until the end of Ramadan."

Other residents suspected the flats would be given a facelift and leased to new tenants at higher rents, but the developers insist the buildings will be razed as soon as the remaining tenants leave.

"Wasl understands that some families have lived in these units for generations, but their safety comes first," Mr Ishaq said.


* With additional reporting by Ramola Talwar Badam