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Embattled Hong Kong leader unveils measures to ease housing crunch

Hong Kong

HONG Kong chief executive Carrie Lam on Wednesday announced measures aimed at easing a housing shortage as she battles to restore confidence in her administration and address widespread discontent after four months of anti-government protests.

Mrs Lam had earlier been forced to abort her annual policy address after some lawmakers jeered as she began speaking, causing an unprecedented cancellation of the speech in the legislature of the Chinese-ruled city.

The Beijing-backed Mrs Lam later gave her speech over a video feed, saying her government would drastically increase the number of housing projects and accelerate the sale of public housing schemes.

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Anger over sky-high property prices, especially among the young, is widely believed to have fuelled the at times violent protests that have rocked the city for months.

Mrs Lam, who has rejected calls to step down, said about 700 hectares of private land in the city's New Territories would be brought back into public use under what is known as a land resumption ordinance.

More than half of the allocated land would be taken back in the next few years, she said, adding that a further 450 hectares had been earmarked for "resumption".

The measures are among the boldest in recent years to take back large tracts of land held by a handful of powerful developers.

"We are determined to create home ownership opportunities for people of different income groups such that they will happily make Hong Kong their home," she said.

"I hereby set a clear objective that every Hong Kong citizen and his family will no longer have to be troubled by or pre-occupied with the housing problem, and that they will be able to have their own home in Hong Kong."

Major developers, including Henderson Land, New World Development and Sun Hung Kai Properties, are sitting on "no less than 1,000 hectares" of agricultural land, according to government estimates.

Mrs Lam urged all developers to support the land ordinance. No further details were given as to how the process would work and which developers would be involved.

The Hong Kong stock exchange's property sub-index rose more than 2 per cent after the measures were announced. REUTERS