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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

UAE

UAQ redevelopment leaves low-income residents facing 'unaffordable' rents

'I don’t know what will happen to us if they want to remove this house,' said one worries resident 

One of the country's most affordable neighbourhoods for low-income families and foreign workers, who have for generations called the old town home, will soon be demolished. Reem Mohammed / The National

Carpenter Nazaqit Sabri has lived in the old town of Freej Al Shuyoukh, in Umm Al Quwain, for eight years, but his time there has run out after his house was marked for demolition.

More than 100 dilapidated houses were demolished during the first phase of a redevelopment plan for the village, the name of which means Sheikhs District, with another 165 to be torn down in phase two.

It will start in the next two weeks and will be completed in two or three months.

“They disconnected the electricity 10 days ago and all the neighbours have already left,” said Mr Sabri, from Pakistan. “Some are staying at their relatives’ house until they find a place to rent.

“Some moved back to their country and others managed to rent a house in a different area.”

He and seven colleagues live in a one-storey courtyard house. Their company is still trying to find a home for them.

Nazaqit Sabri, 39, has a power generator installed outside his home at the old town in Umm Al Quwain. The municipality cut electricity and water from the neighbourhood. Reem Mohammed / The National

“They installed for us an electricity generator when we lost the electricity connection and now we are just waiting for them to move us to another house,” said Mr Sabri, 39.

The town is considered one of the oldest areas in the emirate. It was home to many Emiratis before they began to move to bigger houses and villas outside the area in the late 1970s.

Many low-income families have chosen to live in the old town because of low rents. There they can find a house for Dh500 a month.

The neighbourhood is divided into the area in which Mr Sabri lives, which has mainly been evacuated for demolition, and another occupied by Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi tenants who fear they will also have to move.

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Khaled Rasool, a Pakistani who lives in a four-bedroom house with 18 family members, said they could not afford to pay rent outside of the town.

“We are four families living in the house and together we pay only Dh1,000,” said Mr Rasool, 30, a father of two. “They are asking for Dh80,000 and Dh90,000 for a four-bedroom apartment and we can’t pay all this money.

“My salary is Dh3,500, as well as my brothers’, and we still have school fees, utility bills and other expenses to cover.

Mr Rasool said his two other brothers had received an evacuation letter and sent their families back to Pakistan until they could find a house at low rent.

“They used to live in the other side of the neighbourhood, which is being demolished now,” he said. “They left one month ago, sent their family back to the country and are staying with us until they find a cheap house.”

Ghulam Rasool, 75, outside his home in the old town of Umm Al Quwain. Reem Mohammed / The National

His father, Ghulam Rasool, said he moved to the area 40 years ago.

“We changed houses, but never changed the neighbourhood,” said Mr Rahool Sr, 75. “I don’t know what will happen to us if they want to remove this house.”

Another resident said he paid Dh500 for a two-bedroom house with his two sons and wife.

“We got used to this place and it’s hard to think that we should move from here,” said Mohammed Younis, 36, a Bangladeshi driver.

“We have been here since 2012 and the rents are still the same, but outside the old town the rents are much higher and could cost us around Dh2,000 a month for a two-bedroom flat.

“My salary is Dh2,500. The house is old but we got used to it as this is what we can afford.”

Jamal Al Shehhi, director of the Planning and Survey Department in UAQ, said that the demolition project was part of a master plan to develop and modernise the whole area.

“House owners were notified in advance and almost all the houses have been evacuated and ready for the second phase of the redevelopment project,” Mr Al Shehhi said. “The land will be flattened, cleaned and ready for new projects.”

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