Hong Kong’s property tycoons have been “more willing to cooperate” with the government’s housing development policies, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.

“In fact, if you ask for my personal experience over the recent years, as I was Secretary for Development – and also had dealt with developers – I think nowadays they are willing to cooperate with the SAR government’s policies,” said Lam.

Carrie Lam Mid-Autumn Festival
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam holds a weekly press briefing on September 21, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The comments came after Reuters reported last week that Beijing had a “new mandate” for the city’s developers to pool their resources and influence to support Beijing’s interests and solve Hong Kong’s housing crisis.

Lam said that – while she could not verify and would not comment the report – she “can say that the Central government cares a lot about Hong Kong’s livelihood issues.”

Lam gave examples of the Land Sharing Pilot Scheme, and said that developers lent out half of the land needed for transitional housing. The chief executive also said that she hoped to see greater results from public-private cooperation.

A source who refused to be named told Reuters that “the rules of the game have changed” and that “monopoly behaviour” is no longer tolerated.

kai tak public housing development
File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The chief executive said that the issue now was a “land problem,” and the government can “use public power when needed to take back these privately owned land [areas] to develop public housing.”

‘Negligible’ contribution from developers

A land research group told HKFP that the city’s property developers’ contribution in current private-public partnership schemes was “negligible,” and that the government had the power to direct housing development in Hong Kong.

“Even when we’re talking about the land sharing scheme and the so-called ‘lending out of land,’ to some extent they [developers] are just contributing a negligible part for so-called ‘social use,'” said Caesar Choi, a researcher for Liber Research Community.

They added that, according to their previous studies, such scenes “to some extent are helping developers to release some land that originally could not be developed.”

Liber Research Community
Caesar Choi (left) from Liber Research Community. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Choi also said that the research group could not see at the moment how developers were “giving in.”

“We have said all along that the government has great dominance in solving land and housing problems,” said Choi. “The most simple way would be taking back brownfield sites that have been accumulated by developers for a long time, or deserted sites.”

Brownfield sites are often unused, developed land that may be contaminated from industrial or commercial use. Many have been identified by Libor Group in the New Terrorises.

Responding to Reuters’ reporting, Choi said that terms used in the article were very vague and there was a lot of room for interpretation: “According to what we can see about the government’s current policies, I don’t see any signs of ‘denouncing landlords,’ I think it’s just some chit chat.”

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.