On March 4, 2013, the Trustees of the Amey Tucker Spencer Trust Fund (Spencer Trust) will have their second-ever meeting at the Barrington Town Hall. The recently appointed Trustees consists of the sitting Town Council members, plus Town Treasurer, Dean Huff.
The Spencer Trust is a multi-million dollar trust fund that came to the town eight years ago thanks to the generosity of the late Wilton Spencer. Mr. Spencer set aside the trust fund to help specified people - Barrington's "poor and unfortunate" residents. At last month’s first-ever Trustee meeting, Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo said that means the trust is to help people who are “under the federal poverty level".
The “Federal Poverty Level” is an annual income of less than $23,050 for a family of four.
Are there any "poor and unfortunate" people in Barrington? The 2012 US Census Factfinder income data shows approximately 10 - 15% of Barrington households qualify to be helped by Spencer Trust money. But this question is perhaps best answered by groups like the East Bay Community Action Program who generally use up what little they are provided from the Spencer Trust within weeks of receipt of the funds.
Since 2005, the bulk of funds from the Spencer Trust have not been used to help Barrington residents at the poverty level, but instead, have gone to benefit persons living at about four times the federal poverty level, most of whom were not even residents of Barrington.
How did that happen? It's a mystery. There were no Trustee meetings prior to 2013. In spite of the funds coming to the town in 2005, the legally required Charitable Trust Registration Statement for the Spencer Trust was just filed with the RI Attorney General's Office last month.
What has been going on? For more than two years following the time that the Spencer Trust came to Barrington (January 2005), not a single penny was provided to town residents who might have needed help. The very first check paid out from the Spencer Trust was on June 1, 2007 for $10,000 payable to Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage for a deposit on land that was later sold to West Elmwood Housing for one dollar for the “affordable” development known in town as Walker Farms.
About 80% of the disbursed Spencer Trust funds have been spent on affordable housing development for non-residents and not to help the poor and unfortunate people of Barrington. Beginning in 2009, funds were spent in large amounts on a proposed affordable housing development at 139 George Street. This project was described by Barrington Town Planner Phil Hervey as: "... to develop six to eight "cottage"-style housing units at 139 George Street to include a minimum of five LMI units".
In a 2012 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) application to the State of RI, Town Planner Hervey wrote: "The Town purchased the property in March 2010 for $275,000 using the Town's Spencer Trust fund". Mr. Hervey went on to say that the Spencer Trust Fund is "designated for the benefit of low income people". Mr Hervey goes on to point out: "The Housing Board of Trustees is taking the lead on this project".
In fact, those who could qualify for affordable home ownership in the George St. project can have income levels up to four times that of the federal poverty level. Using 2012 HUD income data as provided by RI Housing, a family of four can have an annual income of over $90,000 to qualify for home ownership in the proposed George St. project. Further, such applicants do not have to be a resident of Barrington, or even the State of RI.
According to the 2012 US Census Factfinder Data, close to half of Barrington's households fall into the affordable housing income threshold level. Did the late Wilton Spencer intend that the Spencer Trust consider half of Barrington's households as "poor and unfortunate"? Or that potential future residents be considered as "residing" in Barrington?
It appears that the Spencer Trust Fund has been misused. Instead of being directed to help poor and unfortunate Barrington residents who may find themselves on financial hard times, it has been used to promote an affordable housing political agenda.
The next meeting of the Spencer Trustees will be held on March 4th at 6pm in the Barrington Town Hall. Please attend if you can to show support for the new Spencer Trustees to put these funds back where they rightfully belong - to help the poor and unfortunate people of Barrington at the time the money is spent.