One common argument against allowing the construction of taller apartment buildings is that tall buildings cost more to build, and thus are “overwhelmingly occupied by the wealthy.” For example, tall buildings, unlike houses and walk-up buildings, require elevators.
But in fact, fairly tall buildings can be pretty cheap where demand is low and/or housing supply is high. For example, in East Cleveland, a low-income suburb of Cleveland, one 24-story building rents one bedroom apartments for as little as $552 per month, despite the fact that the building contains extras such as a pool and a fitness center. This means that (assuming rent should be no more than a quarter of income) someone earning less than $30,000 could afford this building. Even in nicer neighborhoods, older high-rises are not hugely expensive: for example, in midtown Atlanta, the Darlington’s apartments start at just over $700.
It could be argued that because these buildings were built decades ago, their costs are not relevant to those of newer buildings. Certainly, newer high-rises are more expensive than older ones- but the same is true for newer walk-ups. To test this proposition, I focused on the outer boroughs of New York, using Zillow.com to focus on buildings built between 2010 and 2016. The cheapest newer apartment in Brooklyn started at $1150 (about $350 more than the cheapest older listing); the cheapest new elevator building started at $1600 (and included a doorman, thus inflating the rent beyond the basic amount caused by elevators). Similarly, in Queens the cheapest newer building rented for $1450 (over $600 more than the cheapest older listing), while the cheapest newer elevator building rented for $1550.
In sum, it seems to me that the difference in cost between the cheapest high-rises and the cheapest low-rises, although not nonexistent, are not huge either.