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Brand new Karama, Dubai, emerges from low-cost expat haven

Residents of Karama are bracing for a facelift of their neighbourhood, as one of Dubai’s oldest areas goes through a series of new developments that includes wider roads, swanky buildings and new hangouts.
One of the busiest and most sought after localities by expatriates, both for its central location and amenities, Karama has been undergoing a steady transformation over the last few years.

However, the change is getting more visible now as most of the old buildings have made way for new, upgraded ones and roads becoming wider, giving the area a different feel.
Home to Dubai’s earliest low-cost housing facilities like Shaikh Rashid Colony, Hamdan Colony, Pioneer Building and Shaikha Maryam Building, Karama was till recently synonymous with affordable housing.

Among the latest developments is the widening of one of the main roads of Karama next to the Karama Shopping Complex, which is currently under way.
Notorious for heavy congestion, particularly during the evening peak hours, all the internal roads of Karama are narrow, with only single lanes for traffic on either side. Residents think widened roads, with better access and exits, will definitely help reduce tailbacks.

“Widened roads will definitely help, but I hope the authorities will not stop after expanding just one road. All the arterial roads within Karama, wherever possible, need to be expanded. This is because internal traffic continues to be bad, despite the fact that access and exit points have eased after the Sana interchange was redeveloped,” said Francy Joy Balmores (right), 38, a Filipina resident of Karama for almost a decade.
Home to Dubai’s earliest low-cost housing facilities like Shaikh Rashid Colony, which was popularly known as ‘7000 buildings’, Hamdan Colony, Pioneer Building and Shaikha Maryam Building, Karama was until recently synonymous with affordable housing.
But with just a handful of old buildings left now, not only has the look and feel of the neighbourhood changed, it’s no more the low-cost expat haven.
Balmores says that with all the changes taking place, the neighbourhood is losing its old charm and is also getting expensive. “This is a great area to live in. It’s got everything one needs: supermarkets, restaurants, connectivity and a wonderful atmosphere. However, with all the changes happening, we are missing the old charm. We no choice but to move on,” added Balmores.

The road parallel to Karama shopping complex, near the fish market, is being widened. Atiq Ur Rehman/Gulf News
Mohammad Sajjad, a longtime resident of Pioneer Building, one of the last remaining old residential blocks built in the 1970s as low cost housing solutions for expats, said: “Over the last three decades, just like Dubai, Karama has changed completely, but the pace of transformation has picked up in the last few years. Every few weeks, we see old buildings going down and it’s hard not to think, our turn could be next.”
Although rents are still on the lower side for tenants in old buildings, ranging between Dh30,000 and Dh40,000, most of these are in a dilapidated condition and have few amenities. Current rents range between Dh70,000 and Dh90,000 for one and two-bedroom apartments in the new buildings.
“I grew up in this building [Pioneer] and obviously, I have an emotional attachment to this place. It’s not easy to move out because this has been my home for the last 30 years. The rents are also lower than anywhere else in Dubai. I don’t mind the lack of basic facilities such as an elevator or parking: that is just a small negative when compared to the peace I get here,” said Sajjad, 40, who grew up in Karama.
Spread across more than 60 blocks, Pioneer Building is one of the better looking old Karama buildings and may still have some life left in it, but other buildings are not so lucky.
Affordable no more

Over the last few years, several old colonies and blocks have been demolished and replaced with new structures, such as the Shaikh Rashid Colony or 7000 Buildings, which is now replaced by a sprawling block of buildings called Wasl Hub, which also houses some fancy eateries apart from residential apartments.
In the last few months, some old buildings behind Sangeetha Restaurant have been pulled down, while a few along the now widened Karama Shopping Complex road have also been demolished, even as residents of many other buildings on the same road face eviction notices.
“I used to live in one of the Shaikh Rashid Colony buildings before. We were evicted and a new building has come up there now. I moved to another old building which was also demolished last year, then to another old building next to it, and now we have received an eviction notice yet again. It seems this building will also go down soon,” said Mohammad Ismail (right), who has lived and worked in Karama since 2011. The delivery boy for a Karama restaurant is worried that the likes of him are running out of affordable housing options, as new buildings are beyond their budget.
“I think our days in Karama are numbered, as there are hardly any affordable spaces left in this area. The new buildings aren’t just beyond our budget, the owners won’t allow bachelors to rent an apartment there,” said the Bangladeshi, 27.
Although Karama’s look and feel has changed considerably, the neighbourhood continues to be a hub for cheaper restaurants and food lovers, with new eateries opening up almost every month, helping Karama remain popular, particularly among Asian expatriates.

Source: Gulf News

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