Abu Dhabi Social Housing Policies and Programs
Abu Dhabi Housing Authority

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Emirate’s social housing scheme was started in 1975. Over the years, it faced significant challenges that adversely affected its effectiveness, service delivery and citizens’ perception about it. Some of the challenges were: 1. Ambiguity in Policies & Regulations leading to difficulty in enforcement and various interpretation: Due to lack of well-defined housing policies and legislations, with no clear eligibility criteria for prioritizing citizens’ applications. 2. Lack of Transparency: As policies were not clearly articulated, communication to citizens was, ineffective and often lacking. Citizens did not know their eligibility for housing benefits / status of the application etc. This led to a huge transparency gap between citizens and government departments managing social housing program. 3. No clear accountability: As there was no central entity responsible for governing social housing, no department was singularly held accountable especially with respect to inefficiencies and unfairness in allocating benefits. In addition, with the lack of clear eligibility criteria, citizens had no reference against which to complain to. 4. Lack of citizens’ engagement: Citizens’ needs, expectations and feedback were not gathered in a systematic manner. This lead to a considerable mismatch between beneficiaries’ needs and what government provided. 5. No consideration for women & the neediest among citizens: No clear policy was in place granting special consideration to women, people with special needs or people with any special socio-economic status. 6. Subjective Allocation Process: As no clear eligibility criteria were defined, allocations were subjective and at times neediest were left behind. In a study conducted by an external legal consultancy firm on a sample of benefits granted prior to 2013, it was revealed that a large percentage of allocated benefits were in the form of exceptions, not following any criteria. 7. Complex paper based application journey: Citizens had to go through a very complex housing application journey with lots of supporting documents. They had to make an average of 18 visits to multiple government departments to apply for a housing benefit. Furthermore, in the case of updates to applicant’s socio-economic status, such as a new child, the applicants had to repeat these visits to update their applications. 8. Fragmented Housing Ecosystem: Multiple government departments were responsible for accepting and processing housing applications with no centralized database of applications. This resulted in a situation where the same citizens attained housing benefits from different local & federal departments, while others who were in actual need were still waiting. Further drawbacks were: • Lack of clarity among stakeholders about their responsibilities; • Mismatch between demand and supply; • Allocating houses with inadequate infrastructure; • Mismatch between allocations’ decisions and readiness of the land plots. 9. Taking decision based on partial / outdated information: Due to lack of integration between government departments, allocation decisions were taken relying on citizens’ inputs which in some cases were outdated / partial (example: citizens would not share all the assets under their ownership). 10. Limited accessibility to benefits: Applicants from remote areas had to travel long distance (200 – 300 kms) to apply for housing benefits.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Enhancing integrity & transparency in the social housing service through developing, issuing and communicating clear housing policies, programs and eligibility criteria with special focus on women and the most vulnerable. Radically simplifying customer journeys through innovative ICT solution with no human intervention in processing and prioritizing housing applications. Building accountability among all stakeholders.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
1. Issuance of clear Housing Legislations: ADHA developed & issued detailed social housing policies with clear eligibility criteria, guidelines for prioritization of citizen’s applications based on applicants’ financial and social status. To ensure housing policies remain current and aligned with changing citizen needs, policies are reviewed regularly. Within a span of 2 years, version 4.0 of the housing policies manual is being implemented. 2. Enhanced Transparency: Policies and eligibility criteria were made public using many communication channels – such as newspapers, social media, television, exhibitions, public sessions, radio 1 FM, and service catalogues. In addition, workshops are held with citizens and other concerned stakeholders etc. 3. Enhanced Integrity: Integrated the eligibility criteria into an electronic pointing system with no human interference in assessing and prioritizing applications. 4. Enforced Due Diligence: Introduced numerous levels of controls on the applications’ evaluation process so as to prevent errors in the approval process. In order for an application to be approved, it is assessed by the system, and then verified by three separate levels of internal controls. 5. Special focus on Women & the Neediest: The new housing benefits portfolio included specific programs targeting the neediest / underrepresented segments of the society, offering various types of exemptions and subsidies. System automatically grants extra points for special socio-economic circumstances, such as applicants with a disabled family member, martyrs’ families, and low-income families). It also ensured that deserving women segments have clear entitlement criteria and are provided priority in receiving housing benefits. These included widows, divorced women and single women at certain age, automatically granting their applications extra points on the system. ADHA has also made sure to include women beneficiaries in all its approved benefits. 6. Digitization: Created an integrated digital platform connecting ADHA with 18 federal and local government departments that provide up-to-date information about each applicant instantly. Applications are now processed by using only Citizens’ National ID card. Through this integration, time taken by citizen to apply for a benefit is reduced from an average of 8 months to an average of 11 minutes using a swipe of the National ID, and from an average of 18 visits to different departments, to one Entity. 7. Real-time, facts-based decision-making: Database runs an auto-refresh attaining an updated feed from sister databases. So, if the applicant’s socio-economic status changes, eligibility score is automatically re-calculated given this update. In addition, a sophisticated state of the art Business Intelligence system has been implemented & used for decision-making. 8. Enhanced Communication: Citizens are notified about status & final approval / rejection of their applications throughout the journey via sms / Abu Dhabi Government Contact Centre etc. 9. Improved Accessibility: ADHA is offering its services in more than 15 service centers across the emirate including remote areas, as for all citizens to have equal accessibility to the service. In addition, ADHA offers the option of applying through its website or mobile app. 10. An integral Housing Ecosystem: Now, clear roles and responsibilities for each of the departments involved in the entire customer journey have been articulated. Moreover, a comprehensive and effective stakeholder framework is being put in place for implementation. a. Narrowing the gap between Demand & Supply: ADHA has developed a sound statistical projection model to analyze current and future demand and supply to achieve optimal utilization of government resources. b. Conducting customer needs & expectation studies where ADHA acquired clear understanding about citizens’ preferences. Results were used in introducing the first version of the housing policies and eligibility criteria.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
1. Unique & pioneering housing application process: Abu Dhabi Housing Program is a unique, “One Stop Shop” initiative where up-to-date / accurate citizens’ data is centralized in one data pool and used to prioritize citizens’ applications & define their eligibility. This centralization also prevented citizens from requesting multiple benefits from various departments. 2. Levering the Technology: ADHA has gone an extra mile in leveraging Abu Dhabi’s advanced ICT infrastructure when it decided to add a geospatial dimension to the citizens’ data. ADHA’s “Complete Emirati Communities Dashboard” is a GIS-enabled platform integrated with other government departments portraying plot ownerships, communities, districts, facilities & infrastructure offered, providing a clear overview of supply and demand for housing. It is mainly used for: • Coordinating with other government departments so as to provide the needed community facilities (schools, telecom services, health care providers, etc.) This also helps in allocating lands & units for citizens in proximity to their bigger families and relatives “Fareej concept” realizing the social requirements of citizens. • Ensuring that only lands with infrastructure are allocated to citizens. • Verifying the utilization of granted houses so as to withdraw those houses not utilized by citizens within a defined period, granting them to the neediest.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Abu Dhabi Housing Authority implemented the initiative. A Steering Committee led by Director General, was formed comprising of Executive Director-Policy Development & Strategic Planning, Executive Director-Support Services, Executive Director-Housing Benefits & Allocation, Director - Housing Services and ADHA’s Legal Advisor. The housing benefits program launched affects all of Abu Dhabi Emirate’s citizens. As of 2016 end, 77 % of the Emirati families in Abu Dhabi are living in house provided by the government. This is very important, due to the very high cost of attaining land and building your own house in the UAE. As per a study conducted by Strategy & Co. in 2013 titled “Public Housing & Community Development in the GCC”, a UAE citizen in the age bracket of 30-34 years requires 18 years of income in order to own his / her own home, compared to 10 years in Norway and 5 years in the U.S. This brought about the significance of Abu Dhabi government providing housing to a large percentage of its population, while prioritizing those citizens who are most in need. Fundamental to the programs’ design was the stakeholder engagement process throughout the initiative’s planning and execution. To plan for the initiative of introducing and implementing the new housing policies, the process entailed a series of meetings, interviews and workshops with the concerned government and semi-government agencies in addition to a range of private companies and management consultancies. Since the launch of the policies and the integrated housing benefits system, over 75,000 applications were processed (around 15 % of total population). The percentage of females served to date is approximately 15% of received applications. This is a significant improvement over historical application success rates for female applications mainly attributed to measurable and tangible eligibility criteria.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
ADHA adopted a systematic approach to define and implement its strategy; starting with assessing housing sector’s challenges, defining high-level goals followed by setting the implementation plan, as follows: 1. Review existing policies: This was carried out with the aid of an independent legal consultancy firm, studying existing legislations and meeting all concerned stakeholders to understand their interpretation of these legislations. 2. Study key challenges faced by the Housing Sector based on the current ecosystem, starting from accepting & processing applications, approval & handover of benefits up to maintenance of houses and disbursement of loans. Followed by setting a “change agenda” to combat those challenges in the short- and long-term. 3. Understanding & Integrating stakeholders’ aspirations: Achieved through workshops conducted with stakeholders to agree on key areas for improvement, forming cross-functional teams to carry out data integration projects. 4. Lessons from best-in-class benchmarks: Conducted detailed benchmarking studies, covering countries that have particular housing challenges similar to Abu Dhabi's socio-economic profile, in addition to countries that represent a “positive peer” from which Abu Dhabi can learn. Countries benchmarked with were Brunei, England, Turkey, United States of America & Singapore on the scope of their legislative framework, the supply and demand factors considered, urban planning process, housing development models, etc. Further benchmarking was conducted with other UAE social housing departments such as Mohammed bin Rashid Housing Establishment, Sheikh Zayed Housing Program and Sharjah Department of Housing. 5. A two-step deployment was planned for launching the housing programs & legislations. First stage included Loans & Grants, following its testing, a gradual release and implementation of the other programs such as swapping land for land “Complimentary Services”. 6. Internal feedback and testing: Provided by a sample of ADHA employees in light of their previous experience with the Housing Program as well as their understanding of the Emirati culture and citizens’ aspirations. 7. Final draft resolution scrutinized by ADHA’s Board of Directors & the General Secretariat of the Executive Council of Abu Dhabi prior to sign-off and being published in the official gazette of government of Abu Dhabi and published in media. 8. Effective Stakeholder Framework: ADHA took on the task of updating sourcing agreements with the financial arm responsible for disbursement of loans, in addition to developing Service Level Agreements and Memoranda of understanding with 30 stakeholders clarifying roles and responsibilities, agreeing on key deliverables and unifying the interpretation of the legislations. 9. Transferring approx. 300,000 earlier applications from Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Crown Prince Court and Loans Authority to ADHA. A massive “cleaning of data” was conducted including a massive communication exercise with citizens resulting in around 64,000 of final applications. These have now been saved under the newly created central housing database. 10. Assessment of effectiveness through listening to customers and strategic partners: Assessment of effectiveness of the initiative at defined intervals through continuous “listening mechanisms” with citizens & partners and implementing corrective action plans resulting thereof. As ADHA’s policy development & legal affairs’ team were in charge of developing legislations and Policies Manual. As it was carried out internally, no financial resources were needed. As for digitization of citizens’ data and application system, ADHA has utilized the existing ICT infrastructure provided by Abu Dhabi Government, consuming financial resources for the usage of the software needed to manage the applications. Yet, ADHA has built its team’s capacities, and is currently running the system with internal capabilities to ensure sustainability and business continuity.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Since its inception, the initiative has been planned & implemented in active collaboration with all stakeholders involved in the delivery of housing services. This is divided into four key milestones: 1. Development, issuance & communication of transparent & clear legislations and eligibility criteria was carried out by ADHA in consultation with all stakeholders involved in the value chain at Federal and Emirates level Government departments. ADHA’s board of directors, which comprised of leaders of the key concerned departments involved in the housing eco-system, were consulted prior to sign-off. 2. Data integration for fact-based allocation of benefits to the most deserving: 18 federal and local entities were integrated in one system, enhancing integrity and objective decision making. Among these were: Abu Dhabi Financial Department (Income Data), Sheikh Zayed Housing Program (Housing benefits attained by applicant from the federal housing program), Ministry of Social Affairs (Cases with special social status, among others. 3. GIS-enabled maps for enhanced efficiency & accuracy in planning housing communities: Six departments’ systems were integrated to enhance efficiency of the housing projects, elevating the quality of life in integrated communities & taking allocations’ decisions based on up-to-date and accurate information. Entities involved included Municipalities (feeding in plots allocated for community facilities, built and non-built plots), the Urban Planning Council (providing Community Facilities Calculator Guidelines, which analyzes the need for facilities within each of the Emirate’s housing communities) among others. In 2015, ADHA won a prestigious GIS award for “Excellence in GIS Implementation” by GISWORX. 4. Equal accessibility to services: As to reach out to all eligible citizens, ADHA has teamed up with the all the three Municipalities of Emirates of Abu Dhabi to offer housing application services through more than 15 of their service centers widespread across all remote areas within the Emirate.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
1. Enhanced transparency, fairness & integrity of housing legislations leading to citizens’ satisfaction and trust in the government housing program: Following the issuance and enforcement of housing programs, policies and clear eligibility criteria, customer’s satisfaction with “Clear and understandable Housing Policies” resulted was 79.5 % in 2015 and then improved to 82 % in 2016. Policy, Programs and eligibility criteria for each of the services were made public and readily available for all citizens via various channels including public newspapers, a service catalogue, website, mobile app. (downloaded 6738 times in 2016), social media announcements, participation in exhibitions, TV appearances etc. 2. Allocations made to the most deserving / those in need: Since the issuance of policies in 2015, Abu Dhabi citizens have been granted 9,361 plots of residential lands, 1,253 ready-made houses and 3,652 housing loans using clear eligibility criteria and in an objective process-based framework. 3. Enhanced efficiency in the application process, a more convenient & accessible registration process: Customer’s journey was dramatically improved from 8 months to 11 minutes. Overall customer satisfaction achieved was 88 % (in 2016). Plus increased accessibility led to enhanced convenience to citizens living in remote areas. 16,959 applications were received through service centers across the Emirate during 2016. Plus 650 applications were received via the recently launched mobile apps & corporate website.. 4. Optimal utilization of government resources, leading to more citizens benefiting: Through the utilization of GIS technology, ADHA has improved utilizing of government budget. ADHA has teamed up with other government departments such as urban planning, education, health care to create a detailed GIS-enabled map with status of infrastructure and community facilities at district level. Through this, ADHA first assesses the “Livability” in the communities before allocating plots and houses thereby making the best use of resources. More than 3,000 beneficiaries who had attained housing benefits prior to 2015 were relocated from poorly serviced areas to comprehensive communities. 5. A better match between demand and supply of housing: Through the utilization of GIS-enabled dashboards, Abu Dhabi government was in better position to invest in infrastructure & community facilities in locations where demand is high and where communities were least-serviced. E.g. in city of Al Ain, there was an oversupply of ready-built houses. ADHA developed innovative policy and program for Citizens having plots but not enough funding and reached out to them to exchange the plots and accept ready built houses instead.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
1. Transfer of backlog of applications: A large number of paper-based outdated applications were transferred to ADHA from existing government departments, which made it difficult to assess applicants’ eligibility in light of the new programs & criteria. Solution: An automated system was developed and was directly integrated with data source providers, thereby updating applicants’ data on real time basis. For those applicants whose Emirates ID was not on the database, ADHA communicated with them via sms to approach its service centers to update their application. 2. Data Integration: Sharing data is always a challenge especially when it comes to citizens confidential data such as social and financial information. In order to make well-informed decisions, it was necessary to have all stakeholders on board to build shared vision and gain support which is essential for successful implementation and sustainability of integrated system. This was done through shared planning, consultation and continuous communication with stakeholders to update their database & enhancing integrity of overall data quality. Written approvals were attained from customers to access their data. 3. Fragmented Ecosystem: The roles & responsibilities among stakeholders in delivering the housing services were not properly defined due to the fragmented situation earlier and the overlap between government departments ’ mandates. ADHA signed 29 Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) and Service Level Agreements (SLA) with stakeholders involved in the different spectrums of the housing ecosystem with clear roles, responsibilities, performance standards and deliverables. In addition, a cross Government committee has been constituted to address this issue. 4. Change management: Transition to a digital process was quite challenging. Workflows, structure, mind sets, etc must change and skills of dealing with technology must improve. This was accomplished through training capabilities within the stakeholders’ teams who were to deal with the system.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
1. Higher rate of Emirati families benefiting from government provided houses: As of the year 2016, Abu Dhabi Emirate has achieved a 77 % rate of the Emirate’s families owning a housing unit provided by government compared to 72 % in the year of 2015. 2. Differing loan amounts as per needs of citizens: Prior to formation of ADHA, a fixed loan amount was provided for any type of services. Based on market study and customer needs, varying loan amounts and different types of products have been introduced e.g. for Maintenance Loans a cap of AED 750,000 was set, for Construction Loans a cap of AED 2 million was set to ensure efficient utilizing of the government funds. 3. Higher no. of families benefiting from the housing programs: Total amount of interest-free loans granted to citizens with payback period of 25 Years (2014-2016) totaled 11.5 billion AED, varying from construction loans to expansion, maintenance and rebuilding loans depending on applicants’ needs and following the eligibility criteria set. Total number of housing units provided in the years 2015 & 2016 reached up to 1,253 units, while 9,361 of residential lands were granted, considering geographical diversification. In addition to housing projects worth of 11.25 billion AED being under construction, and 7.57 billion AED being invested in on-going projects to provide infrastructure to housing plots. 4. Enhanced satisfaction in government housing program: With the better match of supply and demand and publicly-communicated eligibility criteria in addition to providing innovative housing programs that better matched the needs of citizens, 88 % of requests for land grants were approved within the year of 2016, leading to higher satisfaction and trust among citizens. Total time taken from applying for a housing land until final approval is granted has significantly decreased from an average of 1 year in 2013 to an average of 215 days in 2015 (41% decline). 5. Enhanced agility of services to match citizen socio-economic status: Increased flexibility in the allocation system benefiting citizens, where more than 3000 beneficiaries were given the option to relocate lands previously availed, to move to more serviced communities. In addition, innovative and flexible housing benefits were introduced to overcome any inefficiency in previously granted benefits, such as swapping options: “House for House”, “House for Land” and “Land for Land”. In addition to new types of loans and grants for “house expansion” and “house demolition & rebuilding” and “Temporary housing for emergency cases”, which were introduced for the first time by the new housing legislation. 6. Greater convenience to citizens: Following the integration of all stakeholders’ databases & systems, the registration process was made easier, more efficient and less time consuming. Now citizens approach one entity to apply for the service, with an average serving time of 11 minutes compared to an average of 8 months needed in the previous application process.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Initiatives that resulted in enhancing integrity and / or accountability are: 1. The housing programs and eligibility criteria: These have now become publicly available and easily understood so that citizens are clear about what they are eligible for; so, they are in a position to verify the integrity of decisions taken by the government departments and hold them accountable for the decisions. 2. Alignment with Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Crown Prince Court & ADHA to effectively manage the issuance of Decrees pertaining to allocation of housing benefits to citizens. 3. Data Integrity: The integrity & correctness of the applicants’ data is enhanced through the data integration system and the auto-refresh mechanism allowing the decisions to be taken on up-to-date and correct applicants’ socio-economic status, preventing falsifications. 4. Stage gate Approach: Programs are administered in a stage gate approach comprised of a set of distinct auditable stages e.g. Data Entry, Social Assessment, Engineering Assessment, Authority Reviewers, Batch Creation, Final Batch Stage. A clearly defined team administers each stage through stringent responsibility and accountability matrices. 5. Creation of two-way communication channels: As part of the communication process with customers, citizens are now notified of the status of their application. In addition, ADHA has opened up various communication channels where citizens can share their feedback and hold ADHA accountable for its performance. Examples include: a. Customer satisfaction surveys b. Managing customer feedback from various channels such as social media c. Abu Dhabi Government Contact Centre (800 555) 6. Automated Pointing system: In the effort to achieve highest levels of integrity and eliminate favoritism and human bias in processing & approving applications; the whole process of receiving and reviewing applications and applying the eligibility criteria on applications has been fully automated.. 7. Internal Governance Model: ADHA has adopted a strong governance model with clear controls in place aiming to enhance integrity and enforce accountability such as: a. Detailed internal policies & process management framework are documented with end-to-end processes from citizens’ perspective, with agreed-upon roles and responsibilities, controls and KPIs. b. Conduct of quality audits on core business procedures, reporting outcomes to entity’s leadership and following up on closure of audit findings. 8. Government-level accountability: On a higher level, a dedicated program on social housing was created with clear progress to be regularly reported to Abu Dhabi’s Executive Council by all government departments involved in the housing ecosystem.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
1. Women & Girls: In its newly developed policies, ADHA has clearly introduced eligibility criteria for women with various social conditions (widows, women with special needs, single women & divorced) and housing programs serving them. Since the launch of policies, ADHA ensured that all its approved batches include women beneficiaries. In the year 2016 alone, ADHA has granted females (as main applicant) 572 housing benefits of free lands and houses geographically spread across all Emirate’s regions. 2. Special Needs: A special focus is also given to families with special needs, where 491 applications were approved and given housing benefits with disabled family members for the years 2015 & 2016. 3. Exemptions: As part of the newly introduced policies, special focus was given to citizens’ socio-economic status providing 100 % free benefits to those in need depending on clear criteria in addition to other forms of exemptions (25 % reduction, etc.). This resulted in 4288 families being offered exemptions due to changes in their socio-economic status during 2015 & 2016 with total amounts of 1.294 AED billion and 1.195 AED billion in 2016 while three martyrs’ families being exempted from repayment.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Abu Dhabi Housing Authority
Institution Type:   Local Government  
Contact Person:   Sunil Thawani
Title:   Mr.  
Telephone/ Fax:   009712-6199695
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   sthawani@adha.ae  
Address:   P.O.Box - 110088
Postal Code:   110088
City:   Abu Dhabi
State/Province:   Abu Dhabi

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