In a recent blog post, Julia Galef has generated a fairly comprehensive list of pro-housing arguments and counterarguments to those arguments.
She gives the most detailed consideration to the “infinite demand” argument- in her words,
“So even if SF adds a lot of additional housing, prices will still rise almost as quickly as they would have anyway, as long as demand to live here continues to soar. This view is mainly based on examples of other desirable cities, like New York or Singapore, which have built new housing at a faster rate than SF but nevertheless saw steep increases in price.”
To which I respond: New York? Really? New York is only pro-housing when compared to San Francisco- which is a bit like saying Iran is a libertarian paradise compared to the Islamic State. In fact, New York has built housing at a glacial pace. Between 1960 and 1976, the number of new housing units completed per year ranged from just over 14,000 to over 60,000, and exceeded 20,000 in all but four years. In the almost forty years since 1976, the number of new units exceeded 20,000 in only four years (2006-10) and was above 14,000 for only ten years (1989, 2002, 2004-10, 2015). Meanwhile, demand for housing has increased: between 2006 and 2014 alone, the citywide renter population grew by 600,000.
A better example of a “desirable city” would be a city where both the population and the housing supply is growing at a rapid rate- Raleigh, for example, or Las Vegas. These cities are much cheaper than New York or San Francisco.*
Another example of a cheap, permissive city is Tokyo. But the post suggests Tokyo may not have grown as fast as American cities. In fact, Tokyo’s regional population grew by 17 percent since 1990- from 32.5 million to 38.2 million. By contrast, New York’s metro population has grown from 19.7 million to 23.7 million– an only slightly higher growth rate.
*I can’t really comment about Singapore, given the obvious difficulties of finding and comparing data from that nation.