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The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a measure on Sept. 10 designed to streamline and clarify the county's policies for allocating public funding for affordable housing.

The vote modified both the policies specific to the County Fund for Housing and the overall policies for awarding various public financing mechanisms for affordable housing projects through the Sonoma County Community Development Commission.

Stemming from concern that awards from the County Fund for Housing would sit unused for prolong periods, the vote brought expenditure deadlines more in-line with the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs. Affordable housing developers are now required to complete assisted site acquisitions within 18 months and assisted construction within 30 months, though the Community Development committee can extend those deadlines by up to one year.

The vote also approve clarified language in dozens of sections of both policy documents. The County Fund for Housing was created in 2003, and receives funding from impact fees and other sources. More than $11 million in those loans have been provided to date, assisting 12 developments containing 315 rental and 106 ownership units.

For the commission's overall policy, those changes include both a floor and a ceiling to charges associated with processing loan requests and modifications, alleviating large fees for larger loans while ensuring sufficient revenue to support the commission's activities. Other policies include additional assistance to distressed homeowners receiving commission-approved aid, and clarify foreclosure procedures for those homebuyers in the case of a default.***

Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage's philanthropic arm in the Bay Area, the Coldwell Banker Community Foundation, has launched its 15th-annual "Homes and Hope" fundraising effort benefiting Habitat for Humanity.

The effort anchors strongly on a month-long raffle, running through Oct. 18 in all 57 Coldwell Banker offices in Northern California. Organizers have set a goal to raise $356,000, with all donations gifted to Habitat for Humanity for new homes to be built in 2014.

Individual offices in the North Bay will be hosting their own fundraising efforts as well, and have in the past been major donors for a number of projects in the region. More information is available at www.coldwellbankerhabitat.com.***

As part of a continued reorganization and consolidation of regulatory agencies under California Gov. Jerry Brown, the state's Department of Real Estate has changed names and moved under the umbrella of other agencies in the Department of Consumer Affairs.

The renamed Bureau of Real Estate shares oversight with groups such as the Board of Accountancy and the Medical Board of California, along with more specialized groups overseeing industries like cemeteries and landscape architects.

The Bureau maintains its role in licensing real estate professionals and monitoring various aspects of real estate law, having transferred to the new structure on July 1.

Governor Brown's so-called Government Reorganization Plan became law in July of last year. It changed the reporting relationship of many government entities like Caltrans and the Department of Financial Institutions, consolidating related agencies under one umbrella.

Five state agencies overseeing various departments became three -- The Government Operations Agency, the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency and the Transportation Agency.***

Median home prices have risen markedly across the North Bay, helping to support a national trend that shows fewer homeowners under water on their mortgages, according to monthly reports by San Diego-based DataQuick and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Median prices in Solano County rose the most on a year-to-year basis, with a price of $277,500 in August representing an increase of 46.1 percent. Homes in Napa County rose by 31.4 percent, to a median sale price of $460,000. Homes in Marin saw a 19.9 percent increases, with a median of $760,000, with Sonoma County homes rising 15.9 percent to a median of $400,000.

Overall, homes sold in the San Francisco Bay Area in August were fetching 31.7 percent more than one year ago, with a median price of $540,000.

The upward trend in home prices has helped restore equity to homeowners throughout the country that owed more on their mortgages than their properties were worth. The number of underwater homeowners has fallen 42 percent nationally since the beginning of 2012, down from 12.1 million to 7.1 million as of June 30, according to data in the so-called housing scorecard.***Submit items for this column to Business Journal Staff Writer Eric Gneckow at 707-521-4259 or eric.gneckow@busjrnl.com.