The government is at long last taking a concrete step to address a cause of social discontent underlying months of protest triggered by the now withdrawn extradition bill – a severe shortage of land and affordable housing. A year after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor unveiled a vacancy tax on property developers who hoard new flats, officials will send legislation to lawmakers next month. And in a commentary in the central government mouthpiece People’s Daily , Beijing has made it clear it expects Hong Kong to take the more radical approach of using existing powers to resume hoarded land. The article targets developers and claims housing is an “important root cause” of people taking to the streets. While overdue, the move to introduce the vacancy tax is an important step towards curbing the property market. The bill will target all newly completed flats – unsold and not rented out – for more than six months in a year. The proposed tax rate will be equivalent to two years of rental income calculated by government specialists. A populist measure that attracted bipartisan support when announced amid soaring prices, it may not have such a smooth passage in the wake of recent political turmoil, though it seems assured of approval ahead of district council elections. It should be a cue to lawmakers to focus more on the bigger picture of the city’s core, long-term interests and its young people’s prospects, which are becoming increasingly clouded by deep-rooted social issues. The People’s Daily article came a day after the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong called on Lam to invoke the Lands Resumption Ordinance to take back idle rural land as a quick way to meet the shortage. Vacancy tax bill to target Hong Kong property developers hoarding new flats When asked by opposition lawmakers to make the same move last year, she said the power, although used from time to time to take back privately leased land for public purposes when all else fails, could not be used lightly because it could lead to legal challenges concerning private property rights. Now the DAB may have flagged a change of heart. How times have changed under the pressure of more than three months of unprecedented mass protests. The government is now looking for a breakthrough in dealing with political issues, of which housing is the most pressing. It is good that attention has been drawn to the Lands Resumption Ordinance as an example of legal means by which the government can enhance the speed and efficiency of the search for land. At the same time it needs to be more resolute in dealing with developers and other interest groups, including lawmakers. It is a shame People’s Daily had to point the way in what should be our own business. The government needs to be more proactive. If ever there was a time to think outside the box it is now.