Government should take lead on social housing

CW UAE infrastructure panel says authorities need to guide on ratios

L-R: Moderator Wael Allen (Hyder Consulting),  Khaled Awad (Grenea), George Kenich (Aldar), Maysa Sabah (AHI), Matt Baldwin (Grocon)
L-R: Moderator Wael Allen (Hyder Consulting), Khaled Awad (Grenea), George Kenich (Aldar), Maysa Sabah (AHI), Matt Baldwin (Grocon)

Successful affordable housing schemes needs the support of government and a change of mentality among developers to be truly successful, a panel of experts at CW's UAE Infrastructure conference have said.

Around 200 delegates at the conference at the Westin Mina Seyahi hotel in Dubai heard a panel discussion about social housing in the emirates. Maysa Saha, the Affordable Housing institute's Middle East and Africa advisor said: “Not all developers are qualified to build affordable homes. Those that do are likely to have an element of social responsibility.”

She added: “Housing for people not served by the open market can be a mix of rental and ownership. Rental has its place - for the young and the old especially, who may not want the strain of upkeep.”

Earlier, the conference had been told by chairman Wael Allan that in the United States thanks to the recession and market downturn that “ownership was now seen as old-fashioned and the market is now rental rather than ownership.”

The conference also heard that there are eight designated areas of the UAE where the Ministry of Public Works is set to provide ‘affordable’ schemes fore local people. “They are all in the north, Sharjah and Fujierah, there are none in the west,” Said Eng. Tahani Yousuf, the Ministry of Public Works director of urban planning.

Fellow panelist Khalked Awad, founder and CEO of Grenea, said that the way developers carried out construction needed to be reviewed.

He said: “The building model should change. Developers need to have a stake in what they have built after completion, so they have an interest.”

This change in the way homes are built would reap rewards for those who embrace it, he suggested: “Developers need to think not just of the initial capital cost but a complete change of strategy. For developers, scale is the key and they can make money from affordable housing with the right business model.”

A key question was whether developers could make money from affordable housing.

Matt Baldwin, design manager for developer/contractor Grocon, said that his company had successfully provided economic housing in Australia. “We do it there on a cost-only basis but in international markets there is not much profit.

“Small, affordable housing is likely to be built successfully by local contractors who will be able to make money.”

He also told the conference that prefabricated housing is one excellent solution but there is a resistance in the UAE to what is seen as a cheap building method.

George Kenich, head of infrastructure at Aldar said social housing had to be driven by government, not the private sector.

He said: “In my opinion, it should be directed by government, which has to take the initiatives where the ratio is specific.”

Kenich added: “Everybody needs a house. In Arabia, locals prefer homes, not apartments - especially the young.”

The panel agreed that this mentality needs to be addressed in the longer term if the region wants to meet its social housing goals. In Fujairah the layout of the land means that around two-thirds is mountainous, so higher-rise buildings will be a favoured construction method.

The panel was divided on solar power being part of affordable schemes. The conference heard that despite the falling cost of panels and the huge solar resource, maintenance is higher because they need cleaning more frequently than Europe for example, and that electricity prices are heavily subsidised in the UAE meaning it can take up to 30 years to recover the initial investment.

Questions from delegates includes whether the amount of empty housing already in the region could be utilised to meet some of the housing needs.

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