Planning for affordable housing as part of property-led development strategies in Gulf cities

Wiedmann, Florian and Salama, Ashraf M and Ibrahim, Hatem Galal (2017) Planning for affordable housing as part of property-led development strategies in Gulf cities. In: Transcending Boundaries: Global Flows and Spatial Justice:, 2017-09-11 - 2017-09-13, Queen's University Belfast.

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During the last fifteen years a rapid phase of urban development and extensive migration have transformed local urbanism in Gulf cities. Planning has thus faced an increasing challenge to establish an effective housing supply accommodating various social groups with highly differentiating income levels. Since 2004 the local real-estate markets in Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have been liberalized and opened for international investment. Subsequently, land prices rapidly grew during the first years of the ignited construction boom, which led to a rather significant economic diversification. While in the past higher income migrant groups were the absolute minority, the new service sectors have led to an expanding international migration in all areas. The large numbers of arriving medium to high-income migrants and their families have to a large extent justified the ignited property-led development strategy to meet the accelerating housing demand and the needed services and facilities. Due to short-term contracts properties have however mainly remained traded commodities rather than potential investments of end-users. Thus, the core challenge of urban governance in the Gulf can be identified as the building of bridges between the perception of cities as more or less secure investment markets resulting from continuous growth perspectives and the actual function of cities as marketplaces connected with dynamic local economic development and thus the need for affordable housing for all social groups. Therefore, the key question would be: How can affordable housing be integrated into the development process without resulting in a major economic decline? This paper attempts to answer to this most urgent question through investigating recent efforts in restructuring local urban governance by reintroducing central planning via new holistic frameworks, by initiating new public-private partnerships and by implementing new policies, such as a minimum share of affordable housing. These tendencies are explored and documented in three capital cities, namely Doha, Manama and Abu Dhabi, by introducing major planning and project initiatives. Due to the increasing shortage of affordable housing in Gulf cities, a large number of both national citizens and medium income migrants and their families settling long-term will rely on government support for housing supply. Consequently, the two most crucial social groups for future economic development are currently not sufficiently served by the private sector leading to doubts about the entire vision of property-led diversification strategies in the Gulf. Future governance needs to find new answers on how to enable the integration of sufficient affordable housing. The Gulf region is currently a unique example of initiated property-led development strategies without any critical mass of potential buyers as actual end-users of properties. Properties thus became a major new trading commodity leaving behind urban landscapes built on images rather than any linkage to an emerging society settling and getting rooted in the actual place. This basic dilemma will lead to governance as a continuously contested form of managing urban developments from a purely entrepreneurial perspective balancing between economic growth and decline.