Carrie Lam says HK property developers more helpful on housing, but declines to confirm report claiming Beijing making tycoons toe line

22-Sep-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 7:07 AM Print This Post

Hong Kong’s leader has said developers have been more cooperative in trying to boost the housing supply in recent years, while a real estate group has revealed that property tycoons will meet this week to find out whether Beijing officials discussed the issue with individual members.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was asked whether Beijing had indeed told tycoons to throw their resources and influence behind central government efforts to ease housing woes, as reported by Reuters.

According to the report, developers in the closed-door meeting were also told “the rules of the games have changed” and that Beijing would no longer tolerate “monopoly behaviour”. Reuters did not specify when the meeting took place.

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Hong Kong’s stock market was rattled on Monday, with the Hang Seng Property subindex tumbling 6.7 per cent, its lowest level in more than five years. Shares in major developers Henderson Land, Sun Hung Kai and New World Development each plunged by at least 10 per cent.

But Lam said she could neither verify nor comment on what she called “rumours”.

“All I can say is that the central government cares a lot about Hong Kong’s livelihood issues. It wants to boost the city’s governance and solve the livelihood issues after improving our electoral system,” she said.

The lack of affordable housing is one of the most pressing problems facing Hong Kong, the world’s most expensive property market, and Lam has identified the issue as a key focus of the final year of her current term in office.

“Developers do hold plots but we can take them back if needed for public housing,” she said, referring to the power granted to the government under the Lands Resumption Ordinance.

That option was first mooted in 2019 amid pressure to get tough on developers hoarding sites.

“I have served as the development chief and have dealt with developers over the past years,” she said. “They are now more willing to cooperate with government policies.”

Lam noted that more than half of the land being used to provide 15,000 transitional homes by 2023 was lent by developers.

“I hope these public-private partnerships will be more effective following the electoral overhaul,” Lam said, referring to the Beijing-decreed shake-up aimed at ensuring only “patriots” ruled the city.

The relationship between local developers and Beijing has been in the spotlight since the overhaul, which drastically diluted the former’s influence in the city’s leadership race.

Once known as kingmakers for their influence over the Election Committee tasked with picking the city’s leader, the tycoons were marginalised after the central government reserved more than 1,000 of the body’s now 1,500 seats for loyalists and local representatives of national organisations.

The executive committee of the Real Estate Developers Association would discuss Beijing’s views on housing supply during its regular meeting on Friday, committee chair Stewart Leung Chi-kin revealed.

“We have a special item on the agenda, in which we will ask whether any members had met officials from the central government recently to discuss housing issues,” he said. “We hope the whole industry can work together to solve the problem. This is not something individual members can answer.”

The committee consists of 17 bosses of developers.

Leung said developers had in the past interacted with Beijing officials on different occasions and it was only natural for them to talk about real their main business of real estate.

But he added the local government remained the biggest landlord and the key driver of policy, so exercising a monopoly was impossible.

“Developers, having businesses in many industries, are also responsible for the livelihoods of many people… We share the prosperity with all,” he said.

The Post previously reported developers had been under pressure to contribute to the land supply for housing developments, and the city’s most influential business families had been restricted to having just two members each on the Election Committee.


Category: Hong Kong

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