Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the city is at a new starting point for development under a national security law imposed last year and her priority is to focus on tackling a long-standing housing shortage in the Chinese-ruled city.
Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have long blamed unaffordable housing in the former British colony for deep-rooted social problems that they say helped fuel anti-government protests in 2019.
“Fortunately, the implementation of the National Security Law and the improvement to our electoral system have restored safety and stability in society. Hong Kong is now ready again for a new start for economic development,” Lam said in her annual policy address on Wednesday.
Beijing imposed the law in June last year. It punishes what authorities broadly define as secession, sedition and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
Critics say it is being used to crush freedoms promised under the “one country, two systems” formula agreed when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing and the city government say the law is needed to safeguard prosperity and stability and guard against outside interference.
Lam’s focus in her speech was on ensuring affordable housing to the city’s 7.5 million people.
“Providing decent accommodation for all is the primary goal of my housing policy. Noting the public concern on the matter, I reviewed the progress and set out my vision on the issue,” she said.
Private home prices hit a record high in July, buoyed by limited housing supply and large flows of capital from mainland Chinese buyers.
Making housing more affordable has been a priority for all of Hong Kong’s leaders since 1997, although the prospect of owning a home is still a distant dream for many.
Even residents with good jobs and salaries have struggled to get on the property ladder.
Last month, Reuters reported that Beijing had given a new mandate to the city’s powerful tycoons in a series of meetings this year that they should pour resources and influence into helping solve the housing shortage.
The average waiting time for public housing in Hong Kong has climbed steadily and now stands at more than 5.5 years.
Compounding the problem, home prices in former farming areas about an hour’s commute from the heart of the financial centre have also surged, buoyed in part by mainland parents eager to educate their children in the city.