By Arthur Macdonald
MANAMA: Naseej believes it can produce around 10,000 affordable houses in Bahrain within two to two-and-a-half years.
The company, which was the preferred bidder for the government's public-private partnership programme to create housing facilities, could have the first units available within a year at a price range between BD60,000 and BD80,000 across about six developments with the majority under BD70,000.
"In the last 18 months, the entire property development industry has jumped on the idea that affordable housing is the great saviour of the property development industry," said Naseej chief executive officer Christopher Sims.
"Unfortunately, a lot of people do not really know what affordable housing is and a lot of people in the region who say they are building affordable housing are not.
"The White House is affordable - but only to one person. I do not know how many Rolls Royce cars are produced in a year but they are affordable to 5,000 people, or perhaps more.
"Ford and Toyota produce cars that are affordable to millions.
"What affordable housing means is delivering housing that people want and can afford so we carried out extensive research into what the market wants and what the market can afford and will be building the kind of houses people have told us they want at a price they can afford.
"The government offers low-interest mortgages at BD60,000, and that helps a lot of relatively low-paid people to be able to afford houses in that range.
"There are a lot of people who can afford that but you have to offer them what they want so what a lot of people want is a house that they can add to later as their families grow.
"If you are serving the consumer you need to know what the market wants.
"We went out and held focus groups with men, women and families in the community.
"What people want is a three-bedroom house that they would have the ability to expand to a five-bedroom house later," he said.
"It's a typical two up two down in the UK that could be converted to a four up four down.
"The affordable housing market is not addressing the needs of the poorest people in society. It is meeting an existing market.
"The US department of housing defines affordable housing as housing that does not cost more than 30pc of your income.
"Bahrain needs around 50,000 new houses and around two thirds of the people who need that housing will find what we are building as affordable.
"In Saudi Arabia the need is for new housing is around one million so the market is huge across the region," he said.
"The housing market in the region was very speculative and that created its own demand for a market that was very small, partly because people thought the population would keep outgrowing that demand.
"The market got massively overpriced because of rising land prices and people buying as a speculative investment rather than a place to live.
"That has changed and we believe that as a fully-integrated real estate and infrastructure development company, encompassing the entire value chain from concept to completion, we will be able to deliver on price and quality."