In the past few years, the Hiya Housing Scheme had become the most discussed topic among Maldivians.

While it represents the dream of many locals who have spent most of their lives in cramped apartments with sky-high rents, Politicians spanning two governments have used the flats as a political gimmick.

What is the Hiya Housing Project?

Hiyaa Project comprised the development of 7,000 flats, in the form of 16 towers of 25-stories each in Hulhumalé Second Phase.

The project, awarded to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), was undertaken with a USD 437 million loan from the EXIM Bank of China along with a sovereign guarantee from the government, at an interest of 6 percent. A period of five years to repay 15 percent of the loan, and 15 years to settle the remaining amount was granted to the Maldivian government.

The colourful towers of Hiya flats/ Photo: The Press

Project was used as a political tool

At the back-end of former President Abdullah Yameen's regime, his government used the Hiya housing projects as a tool to gain votes in the upcoming Presidential election. Housing units were given to those in favor of the the-government regardless of their living situation or whether or not they deserved government-funded housing.

Once the government changed and President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came into power, the housing scheme was used again for political purposes. Firstly, the new government scrapped the one-bedroom apartments stating that these were not cost-effective. This in turn eliminated some of the flat categories.

Most notably, the current government was believed to be behind a media campaign that labeled the housing units as 'pigeon holes' and deemed them unlivable for families.

But the campaign failed to bring in the desired result as many vented their frustration on social media. They stated that their own 'pigeon hole' is better than having to pay most of their monthly incomes to landlords who increase rents on their every whim.

What is the Hiya flat rent?

Housing Minister Mohamed Aslam/ Photo: Majlis

Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure, Mohamed Aslam, said that the current administration has set the monthly rental price of Hiya flats at MVR 7,500 (USD 486.4). Minister Aslam also had pointed out that even though the maximum rental price was set at MVR 7,500 per month, the real cost was MVR 11,000 if the cost of construction and the cost of financing through the loans were included. Also, an additional MVR1000 was to be paid every month as a maintenance fee meaning each flat renter must pay MVR 8,500 every month.

Can the prices be affordable?

Former Minister of Housing and Infrastructure and current Mayor of Male City, Dr. Mohamed Muiz has said that Hiya flats can be given at a rate of MVR 3,800 (USD 246.4).

Dr. Muiz tweeted stating that it was a great burden to the public by finalizing a price above MVR 5,600 (USD 363.2) and that the flats could even be given at MVR 3,800 per month if the payment duration was extended to 25 years.

Public concerns?

It has been a tumultuous ride for those who had applied for the housing units. While the current government had appeared to have thoroughly checked the current living conditions of those who applied, many hopes were dashed with its decision to eliminate the single-room flats.

Flat renters tasked with making the units liveable/ Photo: The Press

There was a collective sigh of relief when the government finally announced who were the recipients of the 7,0000 housing units but complaints and scrutiny followed, as expected. However, generally, the mood among the public remained happy, that is until the government revealed the monthly rent. More bad news followed as the government announced that the recipients of the flats must complete the finishing work on the housing units on their own before moving in.

The government had given a period of three months to complete the construction work before the flats can be made livable.

While construction companies have a great opportunity to generate business, the Bank of Maldives has also jumped on the "Hiya Flat Bandwagon" and announced its home improvement loan that caters to recipients of the flats.

While many may have tucked away for a rainy day, many more are families living from salary to salary with little or no savings. They have no way to finish their apartments without taking a loan and loan repayment along with the monthly rent of MVR 8,500 is a big ask for single-salary families.

Handing over the flats

On the 14th of July HDC held an event to sign and hand over the keys to the owners of the flat. The event was held at Huravee School in Hulhumale’.

Agreement signing for Hiya Flats underway/ Photo: HDC

HDC also stated that from now every day 250 to 300 units will be signed off and keys will be given to the owners. HDC has also stated that the owners do not have to make any payment for the first three months. However, those who want to pay the down payment will have the opportunity to do so. The amount of cash for the down payment will be deducted from the total amount for those who pay it.