The Maldives, often painted as a tropical paradise, faces an urban conundrum that belies its postcard-perfect image. In the heart of this lies Malé, the capital city, where the housing situation is entangled in a web of congestion and the social problems it begets.

Malé, nestled within its azure lagoons, grapples with an urban puzzle unlike any other. With limited land area to expand horizontally, the city has turned skyward, resulting in a skyline dominated by towering apartment buildings. The absence of sprawling avenues is replaced by tight streets that bustle with activity, as residents navigate through a city that has outgrown its available space.

The surge in population due to rural-to-urban migration and economic opportunities has led to an ever-growing demand for housing in Malé. However, the limited supply of available residences has sparked an uphill battle for accommodation. 

Recipients of land plots under the ‘Binveriya’ Housing Scheme gathered at the National Stadium in Male’ for the draw (Photo: Twitter/@governmentmv)

Property prices have soared, and many residents find themselves struggling to secure a place to call home. This housing crunch, aggravated by the lack of affordable options, has tested the patience and pockets of Malé’s residents.

The congestion that envelopes Malé has repercussions that extend beyond cramped living spaces. The strain on infrastructure, such as roads and public services, has given rise to social challenges. 

Overcrowded streets, coupled with inadequate waste management systems, lead to health hazards and environmental concerns. The pressures of city life amplify stress levels and impact the overall well-being of the community.

Traditionally, land ownership and inheritance have been governed by customary and Islamic laws. For anyone born before the 2000s, the concept of saving to buy property was alien, and their lifestyle, including managing finances were based on the notion of inheriting land, or receiving land from the state. 

However, as the country has undergone urbanisation and modernisation, the traditional land inheritance practices have also evolved, but with a huge portion of the population unready for this change, housing remained at the core of social problems in the capital. 

The average land plots in Malé were traditionally around 3000 square foot, and the first generation owners of these plots traced back three generations. Since then, these plots have been split among descendants, with some families living in small cramped up spaces that is as small as 200 square feet. 

For the last 35 years, the land crunch in the capital meant no new land was awarded to its residents. While social housing schemes and residential real-estate boomed, the mentality of the state owing land to a generation meant that the beneficiaries of these new markets were non-residents of Malé City, or only the affluent. 

Reclaimed land in Hulhumalé and new plots being developed in Gulhifalhu and Giraavarufalhu were seen as mega-investments by the state, but the residents had little hope that the custom of state providing land for residents would continue in the new developments for the greater Malé area. 

While the custom of state providing land to citizens continue in the islands, the practice only allows for an island’s native to be granted land from their respective islands. This meant natives of Malé has been devoid of affordable housing options for the last 35 years. 

The “Binveriyaa” scheme introduced by the current government came as a beacon of hope for these residents as it meant that, like the practices in the islands, residents of Malé were also eligible for new land. 

Though heavily criticised as a discriminatory practice to those not from Malé, the project was received with open arms by the population of Malé City as they had no other option. 

According to the Ministry of Ministry of National Planning, Housing, and Infrastructure, a total of 19,631 individuals are eligible in the final list for the ‘Binveriyaa’ Housing Scheme. This is a reflection of the sheer number of people that is in need for housing in the capital, a number that far exceeds the average populations of almost all islands in the Maldives. 

Draws are being conducted at the National Stadium to assign land plots from Hulhumalé and Gulhifalhu, and it is a scene of joy, with generations of Malé residents smiling ear to ear, not because they have received land, but because this small token they hold in their hands is a glimmer of hope that would guide them away from a plethora of social dilemmas that they have endured for decades.