Land plots awarded under Veshi Fahi program

Fifteen land plots were awarded today to Maldivian citizens qualifying for housing under Category A of the Veshi Fahi Male’ housing program, a government initiative to decongest the capital Male’ by expanding residential and industrial infrastructure to surrounding islands.

The plots are part of a 250 land plot package currently being awarded to applicants, along with 1000 newly constructed flats with a capacity of 7,000. Although the 21,000 applications for the housing program exceed the government’s initial pledge to house 10,000 people by 2016, Veshi Fahi program officials indicate that the government steering committee is considering adding an extra 100 plots to the program.

Speaking at today’s inaugural ceremony on Hulhumale’, President Mohamed Nasheed pledged to provide housing to all applicants. “In the Maldives every citizen should be have the option of living in whichever part of the Maldives he or she wishes,” he said.

Connecting today’s event with the ongoing judicial crisis which has gripped the country since January 16, the President observed that “national development involves all parts of a system.” Veshi Fahi Program Director “Sarangu” Adam Manik elaborated that the housing project’s success leans heavily on a robust judiciary.

“What we need is a proper judiciary to interpret land and housing contracts,” he told Minivan News. “If a judge does not have the proper education, degree and qualifications to interpret such contracts as well as the law, how can the system work?”

Affordable housing is one of the five pledges which form the backbone of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) manifesto, along with pledges for a nation-wide transport system, affordable living costs, affordable quality healthcare, and the prevention of drugs and narcotics trafficking.

On January 1 2012, all Maldivian citizens became eligible for free health care. Ferry systems have gradually improved transportation and communication within atolls as well, while the southern island of Fuvahmulah opened a new airport last year.

In July 2011, the President awarded documents of guarantee to the recipients of ten flats on Hulhumale’.

Male’ is the most densely populated city in the world with approximately 50,000 people per square kilometre, eclipsing Mumbai. Approximately one-third of the national population of 350,000 live on the capital island. Manik claims the pressure is already being released.

Launched in November 2010, the Veshi Fahi program aims to combine the development of Malé, Vilingili, Guli Falhu, Thilafushi, Hulhumalé and Malé International Airport. Under the program, applicants are categorised according to need: those living in extremely overcrowded conditions, those with land in Male but an interest in living in Hulhumale’, and those interested in housing in any of the nearby islands.

Under the program Male’ residents are asked to trade their land on the capital island for land in the nearby developing suburb- allowing Male’ City Council to develop areas of Male’ for community needs such as parking, dust bins and small parks. However, given the dire conditions of some Male’ housing units 3,000 new units will be constructed on the capital.

“We are very much on track,” Manik said. “Some projects are even ahead of schedule, such as this one,” he added, gesturing to the construction site where the basic structures of 1,000 flats have already been raised by Chinese and Bangladeshi laborers.

“By 2016 there will be no problems with shelter on Male,” he claimed.

As the housing issue dissipates, rent costs are expected to drop. Rent in Male’ currently rivals rates in New York in London, however officials expect half that sum on Hulhumale’ will give a person the same facilities and even more space than a flat on the capital island.

While people are expected to begin moving into the new housing on Hulhumale’ in July of this year, land plot recipients have two years from the date they receive the land title to construct their new home and move across the water.

“Many people can’t afford the move right away, so they need time to get loans and make plans. The concern is not that land will be left untouched, but rather that people need the time to connect the dots and establish their home,” said an official from the Veshi Fahi office, who requested anonymity.

Minivan News understands that recipients of the 250 land plots on Hulhumale’ will also receive housing loans from the Housing Development Corporation (HDC).

Meanwhile, the program’s rapid progress has encouraged more Male’ residents to apply for new housing.

“The previous government didn’t give people hope for these things,” said the official. “Now, people are seeing titles and deeds being awarded, they are seeing the flats go up- I think more are interested in applying during the second round.”


Housing success a three-part puzzle

The development of housing, industry, and transportation infrastructure is expected to greatly improve the “extreme” situation on Male’, said Infrastructure Development Ambassador Sarangu Adam Manik.

“There are more people in Male who do not have housing than people who do,” he said.

The capital Male’ has a land area of less than two square kilometers but is home to one-third of the country’s population or approximately 125,000 people residing in an estimated 16,000 households; the total number of households in the Maldives is estimated to be 46,000.

With 50,000 people per square kilometer Male’ is the most densely populated city in the world, outdoing Mumbai’s 33,000 people per square kilometre.

President Mohamed Nasheed previously said the “household is the main engine of development.” Making good on this claim, he yesterday conferred land tenure agreements to 20 parties who had applied for housing and housing grants to 27 applicants, saying the government intends to provide housing for all 21,000 applicants to the Veshi Fahi Male’ housing program.

Earlier this year, ten flats were awarded under the same program.

The government originally pledged 10,000 flats.

A statement on the President’s Office website said the program aims “to satisfy the lives of all Maldivian citizens, and augmenting the nation’s economically active population by economically mobilizing nearly 150,000 people.”

Under phase one of the project launched in January, a total of 1,000 parties were invited to apply for the housing scheme. Over 8,000 application forms were submitted on the first day.

The Cabinet also approved related projects including the development of a container park in Thilafushi to incentivise relocating warehouses in Male’ and construction of a multi-purpose local market with modern facilities for residents of Male’.

The programme was launched on November 10, 2010 with the aim of combining the development of Malé, Vilingili, Guli Falhu, Thilafushi, Hulhumalé and Malé International Airport.

Manik said the network of projects  will jointly reduce the stress on Male’.

“Gulhifalhu will help tremendously the housing and economic situation. Thilafushi will  centralise the industrial sector, and the bridge will improve mobility–all components will help the situation on Male’,” he surmised.

The Cabinet yesterday decided to proceed with the plan to construct a bridge between Male and Hulhule, a reclaimed island attached to Hulhumale.

Since Hulhumale’s population is expected to double in the next year as people take advantage of new housing opportunities, mobility will become an issue, Manik said.

“Think about it, you will have two to three thousand flats, each with a family of four or more people on average. That’s eight to twelve thousand people,” he pointed out.

He also noted that the current boat-based system is vulnerable to changes in weather.

Manik said building a bridge was not a new idea. “The previous government proposed it but didn’t find a way to do it. President Nasheed’s ability to think ahead and think strategically means that the new government has found a way to do it. Gayoom’s government talked about it but we never saw a plan.”

Reflecting on public complaints of some infrastructure development programs, Manik surmised that “everybody wants to be the khafir except the khafir.

“Each power is trying to draw new borders, and there are always demarcation problems. People will settle down and things will become more progressive. It takes time to accept a new democracy.”