There has been a recent discussion on the social media, about the housing problems and how it has affected people from the outer atolls and also citizens of Male'.
Although this discussion has come up once more, it is not a new topic on social media - as it seems to come up constantly. While the issue of housing disparity typically comes up while discussing the centralization of the Maldives, it appears that this time the issue has come up because of the several ongoing housing programs. But why is there such a strong debate between islanders and residents of the main city if the Government is running housing programs?
The #RiseRT movement
While the Ministry of Housing's announcement of the opening of the application process for land plots and apartments in the greater Male' area is what initially sparked the contentious discussion, many of the issues raised this time around have been the subject of ongoing debate from islanders for many years.
With the hashtag #RiseRT, islanders have initiated a social media movement to draw attention to the grave consequences of the Maldives' extreme centralization and the discriminatory housing programs implemented by the government.
The main concerns are the lack of attention given to the development of islands after several citizens shared the loss, grief, and missed opportunities they had to deal with as a result of the lack of development in islands as well as the struggles islanders face when they move their entire lives to Male' City.
With the hashtag, many shared heartbreaking stories of losing loved ones because of inadequate healthcare on the islands and having to travel in stormy weather conditions to the capital city for basic healthcare facilities, others shared tales of losing job opportunities and going without work because they lack opportunities as a result of being stuck on the islands and being unable to afford to move their entire way of life to Male' City.
Those who had relocated to Male' also recounted their hardships with having to give up their homes, having to spend all of their earned wages to rent, and suffering in the capital city.
What led to the start of this movement?
Even though this topic has been discussed on the social media before, there was a significant reason why it was brought up this time, which eventually gave rise to the #RiseupRT movement - the housing scheme.
In June 2022 the Ministry of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure opened up the application process for land and housing units in the Male’ region. As you can imagine, with the high rent and the difficulty in finding a comfortable home in the overpopulated capital city, a housing scheme would be like music to many people's ears.
This scheme opened up applications for 3,000 land plots and 4,000 flats and came with a list of terms and conditions that you need in order to apply; one of which caught many people's eye. ‘Must not have been a resident in any place other than Male’ ’.
This came as a shock to many, as Male’ City is full of islanders who have given up their own homes and registered in ‘Dhaftharu’ to have equal access to housing in Male’ City.
Failure of the Dhaftharu program
While many islanders continue to give up their right to housing in their home island in order to register under the Dhaftharu for housing rights in Male', the Male' City Council had made a significant decision by 2021 to remove the names of people who had been given housing under a government housing program from the Dhaftharu.
Further explaining this decision made last year, the Male’ City mayor stated that the Council stopped adding names so that it could work with the government to develop a plan to address the housing issues faced by those who are currently listed on Dhaftharu but have not been given any sort of housing under a government housing program, as well as to improve the rules under which people are listed in the Dhaftharu.
Speaking further about this decision in 2021, Male’ City Mayor stated that Dhaftharu was not a scheme created for islanders, that it was in fact created for Male’ citizens who do not have access to housing.
This is also the topic of contention on the opposing side of the argument: that islanders cry about equal housing rights while ignoring Male' citizens, who also lack adequate housing in their own city.
Many people forget that thousands of people who live in Male' also struggle with the same challenges as islanders do, due to the fact that it is impossible to live peacefully in Male’ as a middle or lower middle-class citizen owing to the high rent and overall cost of the city.
Many residents of Male' lack their own homes despite having the residency that so many people are fighting so hard to obtain, and are forced to live in small spaces in large families' homes in order to afford the rent.
While conversations on this subject have frequently devolved into an 'islander vs. Male’ argument, they have revealed one thing for sure - how badly the government has failed its own citizens by failing to provide adequate housing programs over the years.