Pireeni Sundaralingam thinks about housing differently than most of us do.

A cognitive scientist, she sees home as a place where the “scaffolding” of development can happen. More than just a refuge, it’s a place that shapes how we think and feel.

Design plays a huge part in this. For example, a simple two-foot difference in ceiling height can lead to striking changes in the way people think, Sundaralingam says.

Researchers found that those in a room with a high 10-foot ceiling tended to be become relational thinkers, better at seeing things in the abstract. People in a room with an 8-foot ceiling were very item-oriented, focusing on specifics.

There is also much known about the benefits of sunlight. That’s why offices in the Netherlands cannot be more than 27 feet away from a window, says Sundaralingam.

She was one of the speakers taking part on a panel discussion on the future of affordable housing in San Francisco.

The event was hosted by Home Matters in partnership with the American Institute of Architects San Francisco chapter and sponsored by Wells Fargo.

Home Matters is a movement that is working to raise awareness of the proven connections between stable housing and jobs, education, health, the economy, public safety, and other important facets of American life. It is spearheaded by the national NeighborWorks association and supported by the NNA Fund, along with a coast-to-coast coalition of organizations.

There is already much new thought on the role of affordable housing.

Susan Neufeld, vice president of resident programs and services at BRIDGE Housing, says she see affordable housing as an “access point” for residents to connect with larger institutions.

For example, BRIDGE and other affordable housing developers have built projects that integrate health care. Housing providers are also teaming with school districts on programs to help families succeed.

Lisa Gelfand, founding and managing principal of Gelfand Partners Architects, stressed the importance of talking with residents.

Architects and developers commonly hear residents say they want more storage space in their homes. However, Gelfand found the opposite to be true when designing a development for young adults who were leaving foster care or at-risk of homelessness. These new clients didn’t have a lot of belongings, so they didn’t need more storage. They wanted living space where they could spend time with friends.