Is quality elitist?
You make a similar point to a Strong Towns article I probably share/reference more than any other: “Our Self-Imposed Scarcity of Nice Places.” (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2021/11/3/our-self-imposed-scarcity-of-nice-places)
On the other point regarding brick: I think the romanticization and vilification of various building materials is ultimately rather harmful. People will demand affordability, energy efficiency, and durability... and then turn around and say they wish we built with more expensive and less efficient materials!
Sure, if Joe Homebuilder loves brick he should build some brick houses, I’m sure plenty of people will love them and be happy to pay a premium. But for the mass buildout of badly needed housing for the 21st century, we should be embracing 21st century building materials. Sometimes progress is good, actually.
Brick buildings done well have their charms, but there's nothing inherently beautiful or high-quality about it. The ugliest, filthiest tenements, housing projects, and abandoned blights in New York are all in red brick. Meanwhile, the beautiful homes of the Craftsman era were all made from wood.
The quality of individual buildings is certainly important, but I'd say the overall urbanism of the neighborhood and larger town/city is much more so. In Georgetown DC, yesterday's cheap wooden tiny houses for dockworkers are today's million-dollar quaint historical charms.
I actually think that builders these days do a decent job of erecting solid, visually appealing buildings. Certainly light years better than the ugly tower blocks of the 1960s-70s. The biggest issue is that said buildings are almost always constructed in an environment revolving around the car.
Land value taxes would fix this...
As for brick, it insulates well, I think Americans need more concrete construction as density increases, mainly for noise abatement.
You say you can't do much about land costs, but it ain't so! After all, if you build a sixplex on a half-acre plot that used to hold an SFH, each household in that building is only consuming 1/6 as much land as the SFH household was.
If you ever get the chance check out St. Louis. We are absolutely chock full of brick buildings from ginger bread houses to massive warehouses.
I lived most in my life in Chicago where it became a regulation to build with brick after Mrs. O'leary's cow set the town on fire.