The dilemma of rental prices in Malé

An Eden’s whale trap

MFR Images

MFR Images

Malé motionlessly treads above water, lips pursed just enough to pull in any being with the strong flow created, right into its inescapable belly - an anthropological Eden’s whale trap. But the metaphorical whale is ready to close it maws shut, ready to feast!

The great developmental migration to Malé carelessly collects its clueless victims, catching entire families who seek economic opportunities to better their lives, whether it be with education, career or health facilities. At this point of the equation comes the quest for housing inside the belly of the beast. According to the 2014 Census, 60 percent of the resident population in Malé reside in rental apartments.

The Greater Malé Region consists of six districts, four in Malé itself and two, Vilingili and Hulhumale', by it’s side. The four districts within Malé are Machnangoalhi, Maafannu, Henveyru and Galolhu. Rental apartments of different sizes and quality are spread and sandwiched amidst the tall buildings.

A rental survey of Malé carried out between March 2019 to April 2020 by the National Bureau of Statistics gives insight to the current rental market trends in Malé. Data was collected proportionately across the six wards of the Greater Malé Region to give a snapshot of how rental prices are distributed.

Table: Snapshot of average rental prices in Malé area, in MVR

The survey showed average rental rates for apartments in Malé in April 2020 to be  MVR13,634, with one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments making up the majority of available options, followed by three-bedroom apartments. Four-bedroom apartments were significantly less available, and apartments with more than four bedrooms were a rare occurrence, almost non-existent. 

This may in part be due to the culture and circumstances in the Maldives of slicing estates over multiple years, as inheritance. This cycle, repeated over time, left more and more landlords with smaller pieces of land, and thus smaller apartments. 

 Villingili and Hulhumalé, accessible by ferry and bridge, have slightly lower rents on average. Rent in Villingili averages at MVR8,928, while rent in Hulhumalé averages at MVR13,306. These were lower than rents in Malé by 36 percent and 4.8 percent. The 4.8 percent lower rate in Hulhumale may be explained by accessibility via bridge, as well as being a more planned and metropolitan area, compared to Villingili, which has certain restrictions in place in terms of building heights and vehicles. 

The ever increasing demand for housing resulted in growing rental rates, with rents increasing from MVR13,763 in 2016 to MVR14,150 in 2019. During this period, incomes grew by a meagre 2.7 percent. The muddled reflection between growth in incomes and increasing rents have forced families to share apartments with other families, resulting in numerous social issues. 

Findings from April 2020, however, showed a slight decline in rental prices in the Malé Region, with average rent for one-bedroom apartments falling by 1.7 percent, two-bedroom apartments by 1.8 percent, three-bedroom apartments by 0.8 percent, and 0.9 percent for the elusive four-bedroom apartments. 

The limited housing options currently available, stagnant growth in incomes of households, and the high rental rates have left both tenants and landlords in an unaddressed dilemma. 

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