x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The long wait for promised homes

Living in crowded, dilapidated buildings as they start their own families, young people in Tayyibah think they are entitled to better.

Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed, 10, drags his school bag up a dirt road on his way in Tayyibah.
Mohammed Abdullah Mohammed, 10, drags his school bag up a dirt road on his way in Tayyibah.

TAYYIBAH // Home for Mohammed Saeed Abduli is a room tacked on to his father's house. It is a bedroom, living room and study - not what he had in mind when he was planning his life after marriage. "No single house here has just a single family living in it," said Mr Abduli, 22. "It is not fair, as we live in a rich country that can afford to give all its citizens housing."

Mr Abduli's extended family of 15 live in a one-storey, three-bedroom house. They are typical of the 75 families in Tayyibah, a small village in Fujairah, who are demanding new government housing because their 30-year-old homes are crumbling. Roads in the village are still unpaved. Forty young families are forced to live with their parents in already-crowded houses. And newlyweds and young families say they are fed up with the wait for new housing.

"We need our privacy and a place for our own future children," Mr Abduli said. His father, Saeed, placed a request in 2003 for housing with the Sheikh Zayed Housing Program on behalf of his now-adult children, but has not heard back. Cracked walls are visible in most homes and water shortages are common due to overcrowding. Residents claim their homes contain asbestos too, as their houses were built before its health risks were known.

"I want a better life for my children and their children, especially when I see how other Emirati families live in the other emirates," said Um Khaled, whose three grandchildren share her bedroom. "There is nothing to do here, so at least if we are comfortable in our homes, we wouldn't mind living in isolation," she said. The closest place for shopping and recreational outings is Dibba or downtown Fujairah - both at least half an hour away.

Jassim Mohammed, the deputy head of northern emirates housing development at the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, called for patience from the village. "We conducted a massive study of all the villages in the northern emirates and assessed which ones are in greater need, and set up a list of which villages need new housing more urgently," Mr Mohammed said. "The more deserving, such as widows and the unemployed or those with great debts, will get their new governmental housing before anyone else," he said. "We have to be fair and assess each housing request carefully."

There is an understanding that Emiratis get new housing after 20 years to accommodate adult offspring starting their own families. But Mr Mohammad said that is not set in stone. The "more deserving" could get new houses much sooner. "Each village's turn will come up eventually as we continue to build new homes," he said. For the residents of Tayyibah, it is not just the lack of adequate housing that makes their lives difficult.

The unpaved dirt roads become a serious problem during the rainy seasons and are a nuisance the rest of the year. Every day, since Mohammad Abdullah Mohammad was four, he and other children in the village have had to drag their school bags up a dirt road on their way back from school. "My kandura always gets dirty whenever I leave my house, as the school bus can't reach my home and I have to walk up and down this road everyday," Mohammed, now 10, said as he dusted off his bag and clothes.

"I can't invite over any of my friends from outside the village as it would be too embarrassing for them to see our house," he said, pointing to a one-level traditional home with cracked walls and peeling paint. "I don't want to live here when I am married." rghazal@thenational.ae