Hong Kong's outgoing chief executive on Wednesday announced plans to build more subsidized housing amid a burgeoning regional property bubble, but his last policy address drew anger from social activists and politicians.
Reading his annual policy document to the territory's legislature, Donald Tsang pledged that the government would build around 75,000 housing units over the next five years.
"To have a comfortable home and a good job is not only the aspiration of our people. It is also the government's vision," Tsang told Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo).
"We have always been committed to meeting the housing needs of the people," he said in his final policy address before he steps down at the end of June after serving the maximum two terms in office.
Hong Kong has been groaning under rising property prices fueled by weak supply, plenty of credit opportunity and ultra-low interest rates in recent months.
The government's scheme is aimed at low-to-middle income families wishing to buy their own home, and will provide 400-500 square foot (37-46 square meter) apartments to families with monthly incomes under HK $30,000 (U.S. $3,900).
Tsang's announcement met with instant criticism both inside and outside LegCo, however.
"What this means is that the government is borrowing money to prop up property prices," Hong Kong-based property analyst Shih Wing-ching told local media on Wednesday.
"This clearly benefits a few people, and a lot of people who don't qualify for the scheme will oppose it," he said.
Pro-democracy activist and legislator Leung Kwok-hung let fly a black helium balloon in the legislative chamber trailing a slogan referring to Tsang's nickname and favorite clothing choice: "Bow Tie is ruining Hong Kong: government and business are linked together."
He also unfurled a banner that read: “No responsibility [for disaster], instead you get rich, and are promoted. Flunkeys are ruling Hong Kong. Tragedy!"
Leung was ordered to leave the chamber by Tsang.
Outside, a number of social welfare groups shouted slogans in protest at the government.
Across the internal border in neighboring Guangdong, property prices are also inflated far beyond the reach of people on ordinary incomes.
But according to Shenzhen-based activist Zhu Jianguo, in China, such protests as those commonly seen in Hong Kong are rarely tolerated and seldom heeded.
"I think the biggest cause Hong Kong people have to complain about is that they have no full, direct elections," Zhu said.
Beijing has so far ruled out universal suffrage for legislative elections, and for the territory's chief executive, both due in 2012.
While the leaders and legislators elected in 2012 will determine the pace of future democratic change, the current electoral system is weighted to ensure that Beijing's supporters carry the day.
Hong Kong lawyer and Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho said that while the 2012 elections had added five directly-elected geographical seats and five occupational seats, this would have little effect on the balance of power in the city.
"This is really a very small step forward," Ho said. "We are still a very long way from full and direct elections."
On the Chinese mainland, vice premier Li Keqiang called on local governments to make more effort to provide affordable housing to working families.
China has plans to complete 10 million affordable housing units by the end of this year.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.