President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government has decided to alter the designs of 7,000 flats to be developed in reclaimed suburb Hulhumale’ under 'Hiyaa', the biggest housing scheme initiated in former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration.
Housing Development Corporation (HDC) revealed plans to alter some of the flats being built to three-room flats, instead of advancing with the previous government’s original plan to build only one-room and two-room apartments.
Managing Director of HDC, Suhail Ahmed, disclosed to local media Mihaaru, that the changes were determined after inspections by the current administration revealed that the flats being built were not suitable for Maldivian lifestyle.
The project consists of 16 towers of 25-storeys, out of which the structures of 10 blocks have already been developed. Internal construction was in progress, but HDC has notified contractors to halt all ongoing internal work.
Suhail disclosed that demolishing the already constructed flats would add an additional cost, so the buildings would be altered instead.
“The government has advised to calculate how many units can be converted to three-bedroom apartments. We are trying to alter the internal layouts, but that would decrease the number of flats. Three flats need to be merged to make two”.
Suhail explained that based on the current Maldivian lifestyle and how families live in households, three-room apartments are in much higher demand.
“Maldivian families share living spaces. A typical family is a husband and wife with two kids. Mothers and fathers usually visit from islands and live with the family. So anything less than a three-room apartment is inadequate”, Suhail said.
He also highlighted that social housing is a long-term living solution for families, and noted that quality is better than quantity.
It is believed that the mega project to provide housing for 35,000 locals, financed by a loan of MVR 7.5 billion, would not yield suitable living spaces. HDC did not deliver a straightforward answer when Mihaaru questioned them about the adequacy of living conditions.
In the original plan, only three lifts were to be assembled for all 35,000 tenants that would occupy these flats. At a time where power cuts are common, there are no alternatives for the families that would live here in case of a black-out.
Additionally, the size of a two-room apartment is 550 square feet, and the windows in all one-room apartments open to a small 4-feet walkway between two blocks.
Even more concerning is that tile and door installations are excluded from the original cost of the project. The government requires an additional MVR 42 million to make the required installments, before turning over the apartments to the occupants.
Suhail expressed immense concern over the project, particularly the cramped compartments and lack of lifts. He further noted that the project was not up to the standard of social housing, and that tenants would face great difficulties if tile and door installation takes place after their arrival.
“This model is not suitable for Maldives. There is no way to generate electricity in an emergency. Everyone will go to offices and schools at the same time, but even then only three lifts would be available.”
The Managing Director of HDC asserted that the current administration does not wish to halt the project, and will continue with adjustments to make the living conditions more suitable to tenants. This includes increasing the amount of lifts and converting the flats to three-room apartments.
Suhail added that the government does not want to issue the flats with “just four walls.”
Moreover, Suhail also indicated that the cost of the project was considerably high, considering the quality of work. He disclosed that the flats cost MVR 2,000 per square feet.
“I believe that it could be constructed to the current standard at a cost of MVR 1,000 per square feet”, Suhail speculated.
In order to cover the investment cost, each flat must be leased out for MVR 11,000 per month. This is a large cost compared to the monthly rent of MVR 6,000 taken from the latest batch of housing scheme flats.
Suhail disclosed that flats from the “Hiyaa” project cannot be rented out for a cheaper price unless the government provides a subsidy.
Suhail declared that the 7,000 flat project was commenced without conducting the proper assessments, emphasizing that there was no need to build the storeys up to 25.
According to the contractor, Suhail iterated that the project was so costly due to the strong foundations that had to be laid in order to raise the buildings to 25 storeys, noting that this was unnecessary for a social housing project. He hypothesized that the poor design was proposed to increase apartment numbers.
HDC affirmed that Hulhumale’s Phase 2 Masterplan to accommodate a community of 160,000 can be reached without necessarily building the social housing scheme flats to 25 storeys.
According to project contractors, ongoing construction work will be completed by November or December this year. However, there is much work to be done before then.
The area lacks a hospital or health facility and any schools. Moreover, there are many challenges facing the establishment of clean water and electricity as well.