The co-founder of UK-based Assael Architecture plans to open an office in Abu Dhabi by the end of the year.
John Assael, who is also the chairman, has started recruiting staff. The firm will target projects such as master planning and designing large, residential-led communities.
“It’s been very interesting listening to people talking about the need for middle-income housing [in the Gulf], because this is something we are specialists in,” he said in an interview. “We’ve been advising the mayor in London and also the British government on a new sector, which is the private rental sector, where we have institutional investors [funding projects].”
Mr Assael already has links with the GCC. He opened an office in Bahrain on the same day that he opened his first office in London in 1979, but later decided to return to London to focus his efforts on one market.
“I wanted to get a big reputation in London, so I decided I was going to focus on that. There are about 3,500 architecture firms in the UK, and we’re about No 50,” said Mr Assael.
Assael Architecture also advises many Arabian Gulf clients on projects in London, and it recently created a new master plan for Dubai’s Za’abeel Park.
Mr Assael said he considered Bahrain and Dubai for his new headquarters in the Arabian Gulf, but “we think the real opportunities are in Abu Dhabi”.
His company has worked with the Urban Land Institute in Britain to create a housing model for developers and investors looking to target the build to rent sector.
“Those are particular skills I can bring. I would love to be able to share my knowledge here in the Gulf to help developers and even the government focus on the private rental sector,” said Mr Assael.
The property consultancy JLL recently released a white paper on the requirements for affordable housing in the Middle East. In the UAE, it defined affordable housing as homes for middle-income families with monthly household earnings of between Dh10,000 and Dh30,000. About 39 per cent of households in the UAE are in that bracket.
Speaking at the recent Cityscape conference, Craig Plumb, JLL’s head of research for the Middle East and Africa, said there was a shortage of about 3.5 million affordable homes across the Middle East.
He said governments could help by encouraging developers to provide more affordable housing through inclusionary zoning regulations, where developers are required to build a minimum number of affordable homes for individual projects.
“It’s also important to have regulations that keep units affordable. What’s happened in the past is that affordable units have been affordable when they have launched, but by the time they have been flipped or sold on few times, they no longer are,” said Mr Plumb.
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