THE NEXT REAL ESTATE BOOM…. The housing market, which drove the economy into ditch, could become the engine that pulls it out. So argue Patrick Doherty and Christopher Leinberger in a provocative cover story in the latest issue of the Washington Monthly.

A vast wave of new demand for housing is coming, note the authors, thanks to an epic demographic convergence. Baby boomers, the biggest demographic bloc in the country, are looking to downsize as their nests empty and retirement looms, while their children, the similarly numerous millennial generation, will soon want to purchase their first homes.

Neither group, however, is much interested in low-density, auto-dependent suburbs on the metropolitan fringe — the overbuilding of which helped cause the recession. Instead, these buyers are drawn to denser, lively neighborhoods in cities or inner suburbs where it’s possible to walk to stores, restaurants, and mass transit — think D.C.’s Dupont Circle area, or suburban town centers like Clayton, Missouri, outside St. Louis. Home prices in such places have soared in recent years and stayed relatively high even during the downturn. That’s a measure of growing market demand, but also limited supply: thanks to zoning restrictions and infrastructure priorities set by the federal government, too few such neighborhoods exist.

But more walkable neighborhoods could be built (and quickly, argue the authors) if the next Congress will act — for instance, by shifting federal transportation dollars from highways to mass transit. Despite what Republicans might think, such actions would not increase the deficit, but would instead draw hundreds of billions of private investment dollars now sitting on the sidelines back into the productive economy, creating millions of jobs and neighborhoods that are healthier, more energy-efficient, and in line with the way more and more Americans actually want to live.

Click to read the story, “The Next Real Estate Boom.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.