Housing low income households is a major concern of governments across the world. To address this issue and help raise the living standards of low income Omani citizens, the Omani Government established a social housing policy in 1973. The outcomes of this policy and the effectiveness of its implementation have not been formally examined, so the main focus of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of the social housing policy in achieving its objectives. As the objectives of the social housing policy are to provide social housing that is adequate for its purpose and to provide a sufficient number of social housing units, this project assesses these two aspects: 1. ‘housing adequacy’ (physically and qualitatively adequate housing) and 2. ‘housing demand’ (sufficient quantity of housing, now and into the foreseeable future). The Omani social housing policy is composed of three programs, each with different purposes. The social housing units provided by the Residential Units Program were chosen for the adequacy aspect of the evaluation while the number of households which benefited from this program and the other two programs, the Housing Assistance Program and the Housing Loans Program, were examined to identify the current and future demand for social housing in Oman.
A mixed methods approach, including both primary and secondary data with qualitative and quantitative methods, was employed in this research. The primary data included survey questionnaires, interviews with policy makers, and site visits. A total of 330 face to face questionnaires were conducted with randomly selected household heads living in social housing. These houses were provided during the period 2001 to 2010 in five wilayats (cities): Al Rostaq, Nizwa, Sur, Ibri, and Al Buraimi. Six (6) face to face interviews were carried out with purposively selected officials of the Ministry of Housing. Site visits for the observation and documentation of the quality of houses were also conducted. The secondary data included policy documents, executive regulations, and official population statistics and projections. In regard to the social housing demand evaluation, the social housing waiting lists were examined to identify the current demand (till the end of 2014) and an assessment based on population projections and the official budget allocations was applied to estimate the demand and supply of future social housing in Oman (to 2020 and to 2030).
The concept of housing adequacy, in this study, encompasses seven components namely: legal security of tenure, affordability, the services provided, habitability, accessibility, location, and cultural adequacy. These components are based on UN-HABITAT indicators but were modified to suit the Omani social, economic, and cultural context. The modifications have resulted in a model that includes twelve indicators that were assessed objectively by using quantifiable standards as well as subjectively by gaining household heads’ perceptions and views. The new modified model contributes to the body of knowledge with its potential transferability to additional locations in Oman and other housing tenures as well as other locations in the Middle East. The application of this model has produced a base-line data set of social housing adequacy for the Omani Government. This study argued that objective assessment cannot stand alone without being compared to the householders’ views. For example, whereas the social housing was found objectively to be affordable, it was not affordable according to the residents who benefited from these free units because of additional costs such as maintenance. Correlation of objective and perceptual housing adequacy measurement indicates that perceptual assessment by residents is an effective complement to using objective standards. Both measures showed that housing adequacy is not a dichotomy between ‘adequate’ and ‘not adequate’; there is a continuum or scale of adequacy. The study found that more social housing units were classified as less adequate than were seen to be more adequate. Indicators of accessibility, living space, and the structural condition of the house contributed negatively to both assessments of adequacy, whereas indicators of location and services contributed positively to both the objective and subjective adequacy ratings. Therefore, greater attention needs to be given in the programs to the physical features of the units themselves.
The research reveals that, while there has been noticeable progress in the social housing supply especially in the current Eighth Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) due to an increase in the budget allocations from the government, the demand for social housing in Oman has not yet been met. Into the future, the social housing policy may not be effective in providing enough supply, and thus meeting the demand by the years 2020 and 2030. This research finds that the funds allocated for social housing in Oman need to be enhanced. This study concludes by arguing that more attention should be given to housing adequacy and housing supply in order to achieve a more effective social housing policy.