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Introduction and Summary
One of the fundamental human needs is shelter through decent housing. For a long time, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been affected by the lack of adequate housing facilities to satisfy the needs of the growing population. Therefore, inadequate housing has subjected the citizens to adverse social and economic conditions that compromise their quality of life. In this light, the UAE’s economy is affected negatively due to the situation, thus threatening its sustainability.
In a bid to alleviate the housing issue, the UAE government has implemented several policies that are geared towards the provision of affordable and decent housing to citizens. The Middle-Income Rental Housing Policy is one of the ambitious strategies put forward by the UAE government. In 2011, the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC) established an initiative to build over 7500 housing units in various cities in the UAE including Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. Renowned real estate developers entered an agreement with the UPC to implement the project after signing an AED 13.5 billion agreement (Abu Dhabi Urban Governing Council, 2015).
The policy holds that the rental prices should account for 35% of the annual household income. An annual review of the income levels is mandatory to ensure that the middle-income earners can afford the housing units. A minimum period for rental of the houses is expected to be less than ten years for the efficiency of the policy. The policy also provides that 20% of the gross floor area (GFA) for residential units should be designated for middle-income earners (Abu Dhabi Urban Governing Council, 2015).
Despite the ambitious initiative, the implementation of the policy has been faced with numerous shortcomings that have threatened its success. One of the requirements for housing allocation is that an individual should own land before facilitation is done for the development. Therefore, citizens that do not own land are left out in the program, which is managed by the Housing Allocation Committee under the Ministry of Presidential Affairs (MOPA). In this light, the ineligibility of a vast number of the Emirati citizens due to income disparities, inaccessibility of the housing services to all, and lack of technical assistance among other issues have locked out some citizens from the policy. Therefore, the UAE government has been under immense pressure to outline the housing issue in a bid to implement gainful policies.
The formulation and implementation of subsequent housing policies in the UAE are thus essential to the attainment of decent housing for the Emirati citizens. In this regard, the UAE government has come up with some policies geared towards the alleviation of the challenges facing citizens’ access to the Middle-Income Housing programs. This memorandum will assess at least three policy options that would solve the problems facing the housing distribution initiatives in the UAE.
Over the years, the UAE’s growing economy has strained its housing capabilities. Consequently, the population growth has put pressure on the housing facilities in the various Emirates, thus necessitating policies to solve the issue. The UAE’s President, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has put efforts to make the country a better place to live and work. Following the trails of the late founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, the current president has strengthened the traditions of the Emirati people by ensuring that families and communities are provided with adequate housing. The president established the Sheikh Zayed Housing Program, which aims at the development of multiple housing alternatives for future generations of the Emirati people and the promotion of the Emirati culture in the form of traditional housing structures (Hepşen & Vatansever, 2012).
Since 2010, different Emirates in the UAE engaged in contracts with developers in a bid to solve the housing problems that had faced the country. For instance, the Abu Dhabi Emirate, through its Urban Planning Council (UPC), aimed at accomplishing the construction of 13,000 housing units by 2015. The building of villas and accessibility of loans for residential plots kick-started in major Emirates like Abu Dhabi, Al Ain, and Al Gharbia. Funds have been injected consistently into the annual budget to cater for the housing programs in a bid to mitigate the inherent problem (Abu Dhabi Urban Governing Council, 2015).
However, initiatives implemented by the UPC such as the Middle-Income Housing Policy have been faced with numerous challenges due to the dynamics of the UAE economy. In this respect, the programs have not fully satisfied the housing needs of the Emirati people due to factors such as ineligibility issues, income disparities, and inequitable distribution of the housing programs to all the Emirates.
Policy Options Summary
The government of the UAE has shown efforts of streamlining its housing programs through various policy options. Sheikh Zayed’s presidency has been instrumental in ensuring that the housing problems have been solved through the implementation of various housing policies including the Sheikh Zayed Housing Program. Policies such as the Mohammed Bin Rashid Housing Establishment and the Government Housing Program have made significant resolutions to the loopholes that existed in earlier plans.
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Housing Establishment (MRHE)
Dubai is one of the largest Emirates in the UAE. In this regard, the highly populated city is required to plan more on housing programs that focus on all social classes. Thus, the Dubai ruler, Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, formulated a policy that sought to facilitate finances to the citizens of Dubai. The mission of the MRHE is to provide each national with appropriate housing. This aspect entails the provision of low-interest loans and grants to the citizens in a bid to provide adequate housing. The Mohammed Bin Rashid Housing Institution ensures the efficient provision of services such as the provision of grants, residential plots, maintenance, constructed house loans, and loans for the construction of additional units in existing residential buildings. The policy aimed at meeting the basic needs of the families that dwell in the Emirate of Dubai, thus facilitating the civilization of the UAE (Government of Dubai, 2015).
The Mohammed Bin Rashid Housing Policy has various conditions that have to be met by the Dubai citizens before one can benefit from the wide range of housing services. The general conditions include
- The UAE citizenship with proof of identity, viz. a holder of UAE passport
- The applicant should not be a beneficiary of a similar program by the government.
- Disposal of the houses shall not be in the form of selling, gift, or any other form.
- The commencement of construction should take place within three years of issuance failure to which the project is revoked.
Additionally, the policy has special provisions that need to be met by males and females of different age brackets and marital statuses. This requirement is to ensure the equitable distribution of the MRHE resources, thus cultivating a just Dubai society (Government of Dubai, 2015).
In a bid to encourage more Emirati citizens to apply for the housing services, the establishment has facilitated discounts for early settlement of the loans. For instance, beneficiaries who settle the loan within the first year are offered an amazing 42% discount on the housing loan they secured. In a bid to make the process of repayment efficient and convenient for the Dubai citizens, an e-payment platform was established. This move sought to incorporate technological advancements into the housing services to benefit more UAE citizens.
The Government Housing Program
The UAE government through the ministry of finance formulated a policy that sought to satisfy the housing needs of the citizens. The e-government housing program was established by the Ministry of Finance to provide Internet access to all other ministries for the enhancement and efficiency of the provision of the housing services (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Finance, 2015). This aspect implied that all departments concerned with the housing services spearheaded by Sheikh Zayed were digitalized to reach all beneficiaries in real-time.
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The objective of the policy was to oversee the provision of appropriate housing for employees at both the federal and national levels. The policy also sought to manage the rental of government offices and other facilities in a bid to maximize revenue collection. The conditions that need to be met by beneficiaries include the following:
- Government employees that are not benefiting from a public housing program
- Non-local women could only be eligible if their husbands worked in the region and earned a higher income.
- The allocation of housing for married couples working for the federal government in different areas of a distance exceeding 100 kilometers would only be for one individual.
Besides the general conditions, the Ministry of Finance has special conditions for the married, widowed, single parents, locals, and foreigners in a bid to benefit from the program. Additionally, the policy has provisions that safeguard the accommodation needs of workers in stressful situations. This aspect encompasses employees whose contracts have been terminated, deceased spouses, and those in financial problems (United Arab Emirates Ministry of Finance, 2015).
Assessing the Government Housing Program, it is evident that the UAE authorities, through the Ministry of Finance, have made significant strides towards the decentralization of the housing distribution program. The incorporation of the Internet platforms in all the other ministries ensures that the government officials can easily apply for accommodation and provide quality services to citizens. The policy ensured that all regions including the western and northern regions benefited equitably from the housing programs.
New Policy Suggestion
The government of the UAE led by Sheikh Zayed has made remarkable efforts to alleviate the problems that faced the initial housing program. Besides the MRHE and the Government Housing Program, an additional policy is necessary to streamline the provision of sustainable housing services to the UAE nationals. In this light, a policy to ensure affordable housing for mixed-income citizens is essential. This assertion implies that affordable housing should factor various social classes including the labor and luxury class.
The influx of the upper class into the UAE’s major towns has subjected the middle class to live outside the cities due to the high cost of accommodation in the major towns such as Abu Dhabi. Consequently, this aspect has resulted in traffic congestion in the major cities, thus compromising the financial capabilities of citizens in the lower social classes. Therefore, the affordability of decent housing becomes a challenge to both the government and the UAE citizens.
Adopting a policy that allows all social groups to have access to housing irrespective of their background would ensure equity and development of all the sectors of the UAE economy. The policy would be in line with the Dubai Urban Plan 2020 that focuses on the improvement of the UAE’s economy including urban housing. A policy that would balance affordable and luxury housing is thus essential for reducing economic disparities in the UAE, which has a bearing on the development of housing facilities in all the regions.
Despite the ambitious housing policies implemented by Sheikh Zayed’s government, inefficiencies in the programs have threatened the alleviation of the problem in the UAE. Therefore, it is necessary to outline mechanisms that would be in a position to enhance sustainable housing programs for the citizens. Below are some of the recommendations that could be considered by the UAE government to improve the housing services to the Emirati citizens.
- Ensuring the citizens’ access to technical assistance – The Emirati citizens need to be assisted in the various formalities that are required for one to benefit from the housing services. Some of them have difficulty in understanding the eligibility factors. Therefore, some individuals have been left out of the Middle-Income Housing Policy and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Housing Establishment programs due to the lack of adequate technical assistance. Therefore, the UAE communities need the legal, financial, technical, and other forms of assistance to be in a better position to secure loans for construction, renovation, and management of their housing units. In this regard, the UAE government could improve the citizens’ access to information technology in a bid to benefit from the e-government housing programs and the e-repayment systems for the MRHE services.
- Working with community developers – The UAE government should involve social agencies in the implementation of housing programs. Government agencies such as the Community Development Authority (CDA) have to be integrated into the housing policy formulation and implementation processes. This assertion holds because social development institutions are at a better understanding of the issues that affect the people. Therefore, they would make major contributions to solve the issues. In this light, the Dubai Executive Council would be in a better position to engage the Social Development Committee to discuss better ways of arriving at long-rem housing solutions. Therefore, the leadership of the CDA led by Khaled Al Kamda would be well suited to engage other government agencies such as the UPC in facilitating an active Middle-Income Housing Policy. In the long-term, the government’s burden of solving social problems would be reduced, thus resulting in happier Emirati citizens.
- The creation of enlarged housing partnership programs – In a bid to ease the housing pressure from the government, the UAE policy formulators should engage more partners in the housing programs. This move should include government agencies, housing finance institutions, communities, community-based organizations, and international intermediaries in the housing sector. In so doing, the streamlined housing programs in the UAE would lead to better housing services to all nationals and thus fulfill Sheikh Zayed’s ambitions of providing affordable and sustainable housing to the Emirati citizens.
Abu Dhabi Urban Governing Council: Middle Income Rental Housing Policy. (2015). Web.
Government of Dubai: About MRHE. (2015). Web.
Hepşen, A., & Vatansever, M. (2012). Relationship between residential property price index and macroeconomic indicators in Dubai housing market. International Journal of Strategic Property Management, 16(1), 71-84.
United Arab Emirates Ministry of Finance: Government Housing Program. (2015). Web.