DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Where to sleep? It’s one of the biggest questions facing fans traveling to tiny Qatar for the World Cup amid a feverish rush for rooms in Doha. Some will sleep on cruise ships. Others will camp in the desert. Others will fly in from Dubai and elsewhere.
But in the run-up to the world’s largest sporting event in the world’s smallest host country, the struggle for housing is hardly limited to tourists. The real estate frenzy in Qatar has seen rents skyrocket and prices for long-term residents out of their own homes, leaving many stranded.
“Landlords are taking full advantage of the situation and there is nothing to support the people who are already living here,” said Mariam, a 30-year-old British resident whose landlord refused to renew her annual contract in September and she then monthly quadrupled rent – from 5,000 Qatari riyals (about $1,370) to 20,000 riyals ($5,490). Since she couldn’t afford the increase, she had to move out and now lives with a friend.
“It’s really demoralizing,” she said, giving only her first name for fear of reprisals, like other renters interviewed in the autocratic nation. Others spoke on condition of anonymity for the same reason.
Residents in the country, where expats outnumber locals nine to one, say rising demand and a shortage of rooms ahead of the World Cup have enabled landlords to raise rents by over 40% in many cases in the short term, fueling the Forcing renters to pack up and face an uncertain future.
The Qatari government acknowledged the “increased demand for housing” and encouraged tenants who believe they have been wronged to lodge a complaint with the government’s Tenancy Dispute Resolution Committee.
Around 1.2 million fans are expected to descend on the Gulf Arab Sheikhdom next month, which has never before hosted an event of the magnitude of a World Cup.
Local organizers have tried to assuage fears of a housing crisis, noting that Qatar has reserved 130,000 rooms available through the official website. Rooms, located at hotels, resorts, purpose-built housing, and three cruise ships in port, start at around $80, they say, though it’s not clear how many low-budget options there are.
There is a price cap on 80% of rooms, the government said in a statement to The Associated Press. It didn’t respond to questions about whether and how the cap was implemented, and the cap — which is about $780 for a five-star resort room — may be higher depending on the room’s amenities.
Many long-term residents in hotels and apartments say they are being evicted to make room for players, staff and fans.
“You either have to stay and pay the surcharge or go and not know if you’re going to live anywhere,” said a British teacher whose landlord increased his rent by 44%. The teacher has sold all his furniture and is now crashing at a friend’s house, worried about his future.
Other tenants who renewed their leases reported seeing signs on their apartments identifying the buildings as “chosen by the government to host the guests and events of the 2022 World Cup.”
The notice seen by the AP is asking tenants to vacate the building so the building can be handed over for maintenance before the tournament.
Local organizers have signed a deal with French hospitality company Accor to provide around 45,000 rooms for fans.
Omar al-Jaber, the executive director for housing at Qatar’s Supreme Delivery and Legacy Committee, said the government plays no role in contract terminations affecting long-term tenants.
“To be honest, we don’t control what happens in the market,” he told the AP.
A 48-year-old French Pilates instructor said when she signed her lease a year ago, her landlord promised he wouldn’t evict her during the World Cup. But just a few days before her lease extension, she received devastating news: her landlord could not rent her the apartment for “personal reasons”. The next day, her friend saw that her room was being advertised on Airbnb for nearly $600 more a month than she paid.
“You’re kicking out longtime residents for a month-long event?” She said. “People are angry. It’s very disturbing.”
Residents looking for new homes because of rent increases say it’s almost impossible to find suitable locations within their budgets. Most two-bedroom apartments on the Pearl, an artificial island off Doha, cost over $1,000 a night on Airbnb. Luxury apartments on the site can fetch a whopping $200,000 per month.
“The housing we’re left with isn’t good at all,” said a 32-year-old Indian man whose monthly rent is set to increase by over $400 next month. “Suddenly, when we can afford it, there’s no kitchen, it’s too far away or it’s separated by partitions. It’s very disturbing.”
Energetic Qatar has spared no expense in its grand plans for the first World Cup in the Arab world and promises locals and expats will also enjoy an enduring legacy.
“This tournament is for everyone who lives in Qatar,” al-Jaber said. “We want everyone to enjoy this tournament.”
But some say the tight squeeze shows the happy event comes at a price.
“It costs me a lot of stress and money,” said the British teacher, who had to leave his home after seven years. “I have to pay for the World Cup.”
DeBre reported from Jerusalem.
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