Family Photosbarry Mac

Campaigners today called for an immediate halt to any new plans for unregulated hostels and converted family homes in Birmingham to try to 'stop the rot' from a dramatic influx.

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The city's HMO Action Group backed Birmingham Live's calls for urgent action to combat a huge increase in the number of 'exempt' supported housing properties opening across the city to house vulnerable people - many shipped in from other parts of the country.

But they said local and national promises to investigate and act were not enough. What was needed was an immediate ban to stop any more properties opening, they said.

In a hard-hitting letter addressed to Birmingham City Council leader Coun Ian Ward, the group, led by housing campaigner Barry Toon, wrote that they want a moratorium now, as some parts of the city were being overwhelmed with this type of housing.

They write: 'On behalf of distressed and frustrated communities across the city we call on Birmingham City Council to place a moratorium on all new applications for exempt accommodation housing in Birmingham, on the irrefutable grounds that there is already a significant over-supply of such accommodation.

'We wish to express our general concern about the dramatic and unchecked spread of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) that is destroying our communities.'

They also voiced concerns that exempt supported housing was flooding some parts of the city, housing more than 19,000 people deemed vulnerable and in need of extra support and care.

'Almost 1,000 units of this housing is being approved every month - this is causing untold harm. Every day we are seeing incidents of anti-social behaviour and criminal activity - our streets are increasingly unsafe and strewn with rubbish.

'The landlords who are responsible for this ‘plague’ are making a mockery of the idea of providing support for vulnerable people while they pocket huge sums of public money.'

The campaigners also launched a petition setting out their demands, which they posted on change.org

They called for a systematic and joint audit of all existing providers and schemes in the city to ensure they met legal and regulatory standards.

They also want the city council to work more closely with residents to support enforcement action against badly run properties.

'The city council should immediately act to control a situation that is escalating out of control.'

BirminghamLive has launched a campaign pressing the Government, Regulator of Social Housing and Birmingham City Council to do more to end the scourge of badly run exempt hostels.

When badly run, life can be miserable for the vulnerable tenants and their neighbours, as our investigation has revealed.

In reply, Coun Ward said: “This is an emerging issue in Birmingham, and we are working hard to make sure we have enough housing of a good standard for all.

'Birmingham however is seeing an increase in both HMO and exempt accommodation and we are committed to working with all residents to ensure we have the right balance in place.'

He said HMOs were increasingly licensed and regulated and were now subject to 'additional oversight' to ensure any new properties had to apply for planning permission.

A series of online meetings were also held in the run-up to Christmas to work with residents affected by the issue.

© Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live Campaigner Barry Toon

But exempt accommodation is largely the responsibility of a national regulator, making it more difficult to act.

'While we do investigate new benefit applications for supported exempt accommodation and refer bad landlords to the regulator, we have also successfully lobbied government to provide funding for us to launch a pilot programme (looking into the exempt sector). '

A new Charter of Rights for tenants and Quality Standard for providers would soon be introduced, he added.

City wards with the most exempt properties (not including HMOs):

1. Stockland Green - 380

2. Gravelly Hill - 300

3. Aston - 293

4. Sparkbrook & Balsall Heath - 279

5. North Edgbaston - 270

6. Erdington - 258

7. Birchfield - 226

8. Soho and Jewellery Quarter - 224

9. Sparkhill - 222

10. Handsworth - 211

When run well, exempt properties can offer hope and help for troubled and vulnerable people to thrive, ready to move on.

But too many are badly-run, and poorly regulated, putting tenants at risk and causing mayhem in city communities.

They often do not require planning permission or to be licensed as HMOs (houses of multiple occupation) because of their special status.

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What do you think? Should any more properties like this be banned from the city? Use our comments section to share your views and experiences.

Family photosbarry mac and cheese

Cartoonist and author Lynda Barry and geologist Andrea Dutton, both professors at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, have been awarded 2019 MacArthur Fellowships.

The fellowships, also known as genius grants, provide $625,000 stipends to be used as the fellows see fit. Fellows are selected by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for their exceptional creativity, future promise and potential for the fellowship to advance their work.

“The outstanding work of these professors reflects the vibrancy and innovation of UW–Madison,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “Lynda Barry and Andrea Dutton are extraordinary scholars and we are thrilled about this recognition of their work. We are enormously excited to see their remarkable contributions in the years ahead.”

Barry joined the faculty in 2013 after serving as the spring 2012 artist in residence at the Arts Institute. She is now the Chazen Family Distinguished Chair in Art and a professor of interdisciplinary creativity in the Art Department. Barry is an award-winning artist recognized for her unique art style, creative teaching process and approachable books and comics.

Her graphic novel What It Is won the 2009 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Graphic Novel. Her other books include Picture This and Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Barry’s work aims to understand and harness the creative process to help students and researchers advance their work in the arts, humanities and sciences.

When Barry first heard from the foundation, she says, “the main thing I thought about was all the teachers I’ve had and all my students, and the feeling that I was really going to have the opportunity to devote myself to this work completely.”

Barry intends to use the stipend to advance her teaching and drawing. She is also planning her next book on how the drawing style of children can teach adults how to draw and be more creative.

Andrea Dutton Maggie Steber

Family Photosbarry Mac And Cheese

Dutton recently joined the faculty of the Department of Geoscience from the University of Florida. Her hiring was made possible through the Target of Opportunity Program (TOP), a chancellor initiative that provides funding to departments to recruit faculty who will greatly enhance the quality and diversity of the department.

Dutton is an international expert in sea level rise, and her research has worked to reconstruct the changes in sea level that occurred during past climate changes. By analyzing fossilized coral reefs around the world, Dutton helps predict future sea level rise in a warming climate. She is also a committed communicator who works to share climate research as widely as possible.

She will spend the spring semester in New Zealand as a Fulbright Scholar working to combine her records of past sea levels with models of the Antarctic ice sheet to better understand how global warming will affect rising seas.

The award “was completely out of the blue. I had no idea, so it is very exciting,” Dutton says. She is still considering how best to make use of the stipend.

“I want to take the opportunity to think outside of the box. I feel like the topic that I work on has such urgency in terms of our action today that maybe one of the best things I can do is help build a whole community of scientists and voices that can help contribute,” says Dutton.

Tags: chancellor, faculty, faculty awards, provost