Housing trends and prospects for marginalized populations in Al Ain City, UAE

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Housing trends and prospects for marginalized populations in Al Ain City, UAE
Abstract
This paper discusses housing trends and prospects of marginalized populations in Al Ain city, United Arab Emirates. Marginalized populations in Al Ain city are workers coming from developing countries looking for better living conditions and high income to support their families. In this rich oil country, they are confronting challenges of scarcity of affordable housing and expensive living conditions. One group lives in slum areas while another group lives in neighboring Buraimi city. Al Ain governmental agencies are trying to solve these problems by building affordable housing for non-citizens.
The aim of this paper is to discuss prospects and possibilities for housing these marginalized populations. Al Ain Town Planning Department provided data, statistics, and surveys prepared by the department. Other information and figures used in this paper were collected by the author through several visits to the sites and interviews with informants.
Housing trends of two groups of workers are discussed in this paper. The first group of marginalized populations, composed mainly of clerical workers, is residing in nearby Buraimi city in the Sultanate of Oman because of the availability of affordable housing dwellings. Many residents of Oman are working in Al Ain city crossing the borders several times daily. This daily migration from one country to another is pausing a serious problem for the government of the UAE, especially in the absence of control check points between the two countries. The second group of marginalized populations is composed of manual workers who are living on city skirts in informal settlements and slums. The informal housing slums occupied by daily foreign workers are a social and health hazard to the rest of the city. The slums are located behind a mountain separating them from the rest of the town. The streets are too narrow for police or ambulance cars to go through them. The residents have their own social network and conflict solving councils. Many of the residents are illegal immigrants and hide in the slums for protection. Incidents of social conflicts occurred between residing groups were very alarming to the rest of the community.
This paper stresses the urgency to recognize the housing needs of marginalized populations in Al Ain city. Gulf countries, with their high income and low populations, depend on less fortunate developing countries for supply of workers and work force. In order to keep a healthy interaction between community groups, housing schemes developed by the government should recognize the needs of all members of the society: permanent and temporary alike. Comprising all social groups in governmental housing programs is a must. The needs of large number of foreigners should be recognized in order to provide healthy and appropriate housing environment for them to live and produce.

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Housing trends and prospects for marginalized populations in Al Ain City, UAE

  1. 1. Housing Trends and Prospects for Marginalized Populations in Al Ain City, UAE Paper presented to ISA - Research Committee 43 - International Conference HOUSING IN THE 21ST CENTURY: LOOKING FORWARD June 11-14, 1997 Paper presented by Dr. Yasser Osman Moharam Mahgoub Department of Architecture - College of Engineering United Arab Emirates University
  2. 2. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 2 Housing Trends and Prospects for Marginalized Populations in Al Ain City, UAE Dr. Yasser Mahgoub Introduction While the population of the UAE is approximately 2.5 Million persons, the estimated number of foreigners is more than 1.5 Million- according to 1996 statistics. Approximately 75% of foreigners are coming from Pakistan, India and other South Asian countries, the other 25% percent are foreigners from Arab and European countries.1 S a u d i A r a b i a U . A . E . O m a n I r a n P a k i s t a n Figure (1.) Map of the Gulf Region Al Ain City Al Ain city is a middle size town of approximately 250,000 persons, hosting the United Arab Emirates University and several touristic attractions. It has common borders with Buraimi city of the Sultanate of Oman. Due to the good economic and job opportunities, there are many foreigners working in Al Ain city.
  3. 3. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 3 Figure (2.) Map of the United Arab Emirates Social Groups in Al Ain City There are two main social groups in Al Ain city: citizens and non-citizens. The citizens are decedents of tribes who historically lived in the area. Citizens are occupying trading, governmental, managerial and important administrative jobs. Non-citizen groups are composed of workers coming from different parts of the world. They occupy teaching, clerical, and manual jobs. This group is composed of Arab, Iranian, Indian, American and European citizens. The largest sub-group of non-citizens is called Batan referring to all persons coming from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other South Asian countries. Many of these foreign workers are illegal residents, low paid and live in degraded housing conditions. The government is restricting immigration opportunities and enforcing strict residency laws.
  4. 4. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 4 Figure (3.)Map of Al Ain City Housing Stock in Al Ain City Housing stock in Al Ain city is composed of the following items: 1- Private Housing Wealthy citizens build their private houses on large plots assigned by the government in the suburbs. They usually build luxury compounds of villas away from the down town area seeking privacy. 2- Public Housing Projects The government provides the less fortunate citizens with housing units and loans to build their own dwellings. Many schemes of public housing started in the seventies to provide citizens with adequate houses and settlements. Some of these schemes aimed at settling the Bedouins while other schemes aimed at improving the living conditions of urban dwellers. The government took the responsibility of building houses for all its citizens. The expense of the so- called “public house” for a family of six persons has reached one million UAE Dirhams (approximately 300,000 US Dollars). This high cost is result of
  5. 5. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 5 assigning large plots due to social needs of privacy, wide vehicular streets and luxury finishing materials used in the houses. Governmental agencies continue to build public housing projects for newly married citizens and those who want to move from their older dwellings. Public housing projects continue to pause a dilemma because of their high cost and inadequate architectural designs. 3- Investment in Housing The government encourages investment in housing and supports the construction of housing units by providing citizens with loans through banks and special governmental committees. This situation produced high standard and expensive housing stock. Most of these luxury dwellings are rented by government employees and other well paid workers. The average rent of a 2- bedrooms apartment is 25,000 Dirhams per year. Housing Trends of Marginalized Populations in Al Ain city Little attention has been given to the housing needs of low-income, non- citizen groups. Non-citizens are either assigned housing dwellings or given housing allowance by their employers. Those who are given housing allowance try to rent cheap houses to save the difference between the housing allowance and the actual rent. The rent of a 2-bedroom apartment in Al Ain is approximately 25,000 Dirhams per year, while the average income of foreign workers is 36,000 UAE Dirhams per year. The largest group of marginalized populations is composed of daily manual and low-paid workers who cannot find appropriate and affordable housing suitable for their income. Most of them are not assigned housing by their employers. They solve their housing problem using one of the following approaches:
  6. 6. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 6 1- Sharing accommodation: Many foreign workers live in shared apartments and houses, sometimes 10 to 15 persons in one room. This solution allows the workers to pay very small rent. This situation created inadequate housing conditions as well as health and social hazards. The government has recently enforced a housing law restricting the number of persons in a housing unit. 2- Daily migration: Some workers reside in close by cities and towns, where they find affordable housing, and migrate daily to the commercial and industrial districts. For example, in Dubai city many workers reside in neighboring Sharjah city where they find cheaper housing. In Al Ain city many workers live in neighboring Buraimi city in the Sultanate of Oman. 3- Illegal settlements and slums: Large number of workers reside in illegal settlements and slums which provide cheap living conditions and social support especially for bachelors and single men. Case Studies Case Study I: Daily Migration This group of marginalized populations is composed of clerical workers. They are residing in nearby Buraimi city in the Sultanate of Oman because of the availability of cheap housing dwellings. Many residents of Buraimi city are working in Al Ain city crossing the borders several times daily. This daily migration from one country to another is pausing a serious problem for the government of the UAE because of the absence of control check points between the two countries. Unwanted persons reside in Buraimi and cross the borders looking for work in Al Ain city. Also, Al Ain city is loosing economic
  7. 7. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 7 resources spent by those workers in Buraimi area on housing, services, shopping, and other daily expenses. There are no official statistics available on the UAE workers living in Buraimi city.2 The estimated number of persons working in Al Ain city and residing in Buraimi exceeds 20,000 persons. They live in dwellings owned by Omani citizens, who converted their large dwelling units into small units suitable for the needs of the workers. The units range from studios, one- bedroom and two-bedroom units provided with bathrooms and kitchens. According to the residents of Buraimi, the average rent of two-bedrooms unit is 500 Dirhams per month, which is less than the cost of similar units in Al Ain city. Other daily expenses such as food, electricity, gas, and water are also cheaper in Buraimi. To maintain contact with Al Ain city, the residents of Buraimi use mobile phones rented from Al Ain telephone company because they cannot acquire telephones in Oman. This case is difficult to handle because of dependency of the two cities on each other for services, goods and work force. Also, any formal measures could have political implications between two neighboring countries.
  8. 8. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 8 Figure (4.) Buraimi housing units. Figure (5.) Buraimi housing units.
  9. 9. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 9 Figure (6.) Buraimi housing units. Figure (7.) Buraimi housing units. Case Study II: Slums’ Dwellers The second group of marginalized populations is composed of manual workers who live on Al Ain city skirts in informal settlements and slums. The informal housing slums occupied by daily foreign workers are causing social and health hazards to the rest of the city. The slums are located behind a mountain separating them from the rest of the town. Wood and steel shacks are
  10. 10. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 10 located along narrow unpaved streets. The streets are too narrow for police or ambulance cars to go through them. The residents have their own social network and conflict solving councils.3 Many of the residents are illegal immigrants and hide in the slums for protection. Incidents of social conflicts occurred between residing groups were very alarming to the rest of the community. The only survey of the area was completed in 1991 by the Municipality of Al Ain city. The information was collected to support the design scheme of new housing schemes for the workers.4 The survey concluded that 91% of the workers were Pakistani, 6.5% were Afghani, and 2.3% were Bangladeshi. The community members were mostly Muslims from poor Asian countries. The survey also showed that 54% of the workers were government workers, 77% were service workers, and 11% were taxi drivers. The alarming statistic was the number of persons in one room which reached 9 persons per room. The average number of persons in a dwelling unit was 16 persons per unit. Some dwelling units were occupied by more than 100 persons. According to the 1991 statistics, 58.5% of the houses were built of wood, 13% of steel sheets, and 27% of brick. 61% of the units were built by the residents themselves, and 34% were built by the municipality. 66% of the units had kitchens and 62% had bathrooms. 86% of the units were built before 1985. 98.9 % of the units were rent-free. The survey indicated the absence of medical, social, infrastructure and community services. It also indicated the absence of police and other governmental agencies. A serious incident occurred in 1992 when the news spread in the area that a mosque was burnt in India. This started a series of demonstrations and attacks on Indian-owned businesses in the Industrial area. The army and police forces intervened and the situation took three days to control. This incident alarmed
  11. 11. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 11 the government of the seriousness of the situation and the need to develop adequate solutions. A number of security and immigration measures were imposed. Figure (8.) Workers’ slums against the mountains. Figure (9.) Dwellings inside the slums.
  12. 12. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 12 Figure (10.) Unpaved streets inside the slums. Figure (11.) Dwellings inside the slums. Prospects for housing marginalized populations in Al Ain city Al Ain governmental agencies are trying to solve these housing problems by building affordable housing units for non-citizens families and bachelors. The first attempt to understand the needs of marginalized populations was made during the late Eighties when the Municipality started a survey of the workers
  13. 13. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 13 in the industrial area. The aim was to understand the housing conditions and needs of this marginalized group. The Abu Dhabi Consultative Council has recently called for the provision of low-cost, low-rental housing developments in the form of apartment blocks for families and bachelors on an Emirate wide basis. This announcement coincides with the intention of the Al Ain Town planning Department to make such accommodation available on the market and shall, undoubtedly assist in accelerating the implementation of this project. ..... The attainment of such an aspiration is perceived as being the mechanism to solving the housing problems of many low-income families, bachelors and laborers who are currently forced to share accommodation in large numbers. This situation is considered to be the detriment of the expatriate population in particular and the society in general.5 There are many difficulties confronting the development of appropriate housing schemes for marginalized groups in Al Ain city: 1- Building codes currently applied in Al Ain city do not allow the construction of affordable housing for marginalized groups. They are designed to meet the needs of citizens and high income groups. They produce luxury housing schemes which address the needs of high-income groups.6 2- Housing types suitable for marginalized people are fundamentally different than those suitable for other social groups in the society. The first priority for these groups is to save money and send as much as they can to support their families. The housing needs of marginalized populations can only be met by governmental programs addressed to meet their needs.
  14. 14. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 14 3- Social attitudes towards foreigners keep marginalized groups unrecognized by governmental housing schemes. 4- Centralization vs. Decentralization is a dilemma confronting governmental agencies in the development of housing schemes. Neither aggregation nor segregation of social groups is an acceptable housing strategy from the government point of view. 5- Political boundaries do not always reflect social and cultural boundaries. This situation is evident in the case of daily migration between the neighboring countries. The solution to this problem require international cooperation because of the hazard paused by this daily movement from one country to another. Conclusions: The right to adequate housing During Habitat II conference in Istanbul, “enormous progress was made in the evaluation and understanding of the notion of the right to housing, with gains made in agreement on the affirmative role of Government to help make housing habitable, affordable and accessible.”7 Gulf countries, with their high income and low populations, depend on less fortunate developing countries for supply of workers and work force. This situation will not change in the near future because of the limited number of citizens and their dislike of manual jobs. In order to keep a healthy interaction between community groups, housing schemes developed by the government should recognize the needs of all members of the society: permanent and temporary alike. In Al Ain city, recent attempts are made to recognize the needs of marginalized groups. A housing project to house laborers of the slums areas is awaiting financial decisions. A competition to develop housing schemes for migrating groups is under review.
  15. 15. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 15 Comprising all social groups in governmental housing programs is a must. Social, health and political hazards are inevitable if marginalized groups are not included in the housing schemes and left to solve their housing problems by means of informal housing. The needs of large number of foreigners should be recognized in order to provide healthy and appropriate housing environment for them to live and produce.
  16. 16. Dr. Yasser Mahgoub 16 Footnotes 1 - Due to the sensitivity of these numbers, no official statistics is available regarding the ratio between citizens and foreigners residing in this country. 2 - A survey of those workers housing conditions cannot be made by UAE government agencies because of the existence of those units in Oman. 3 - Abdelatif, M., Informal workers housing in industrial areas in the United Arab Emirates, Paper presented to Ministry of Housing and Public Works, UAE, 1992. 4 - Town Planning Department, Al Ain Municipality, Survey of service workers settlements in Al Ain city, January 1991. 5 - Al Ain Town Planning Department, Al Ain Municipality, Low-Cost Housing Development in Al Ain, 1996. 6 - Nassib, Abdallah, Informal housing in Al Ain city, Al Ain Town Planning Department, 1984. 7 - Report on HABITAT II: City Summit to Forge the Future of Human Settlements in an Urbanizing World, June 1996.

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