(Illustrations by Rachel Orr/The Washington Post; iStock)

Expensive housing is a problem not simply because it gobbles up a lot of money, but also because it eats into the things we would buy if we weren't shelling out so much for shelter.

Families who struggle to pay the rent or the mortgage have to scale back on what they spend on health care or groceries or education. As a result, unaffordable housing has a way of creating other problems, too.

According to an annual, national housing survey by the MacArthur Foundation, more than half of Americans — 53 percent — in the last three years have made some kind of sacrifice to cover housing costs. They took on longer hours at work or an additional job. They stopped putting money away for retirement. They accepted tradeoffs for cheaper housing — like moving to neighborhoods that they felt were less safe or had weaker schools. From the survey's recent results:


We know a lot about how many people face housing cost burdens and how hard it is to find an affordable home in communities across the country. But the reality that always hides behind these statistics is that households make hard concessions to keep the one thing they can't do without. Alongside housing, other things start to look like luxuries: a car, a bottle of medicine, a box of toys for the kids or a bank account for retirement.