Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bank of Taiwan (BOT) Housing Conversation

I received info copies of an email exchange between Les Duffin and Bill Thayer regarding the BOT housing where many U.S. military families resided.  I thought the content of their messages would be of interest to many of the folks who read this blog.  So here, with their permission, is a summary:

Les wrote:   Since I lived in a BOT house in Tien Mu from 1976 to 1978, I'll try to answer as many questions as I can.  I remember being told that, when the US military first came to Taiwan, there were few homes which were considered up to US standards.  For that reason an agreement was reached between the two governments to construct a number of houses to fill the need.  I don't know how BOT came to be the ROC agency chosen to build and run the housing compounds, but that was how things turned out.  BOT acted as landlord and maintained the homes.  I'm pretty sure we paid our monthly rent directly to BOT, but I'm not absolutely certain.  I do know there was a BOT maintenance office not far from where we lived and we needed only phone or walk over there when we had a problem; the local employees would take care of it, usually right away.

The US Navy's role was to parcel out the houses to those who wanted them.  A housing office in the HSA West Compound inspected and approved all private rentals and also assigned people to specific BOT houses.  Senior officers and NCOs usually received BOT houses immediately upon arrival, but all others had to apply if they wanted one.  You could sign up for either area, Tien Mu or Yang Ming Shan, or both.  When I arrived in 1975, I was told the waiting list was about 12-18 months long.  It turned out I was offered a house in exactly one year.  So we ended up living in a private rental for the first year, then moved when a BOT house became available.  During "normal" times, there were always more people who wanted BOT housing than there were available houses, but that changed later; when I left in summer of 1978 the declining numbers of US military personnel on island resulted in some houses actually sitting vacant.

The advantages of BOT homes over private rentals were several.  First, you paid only your BAQ [Basic Allowance for Quarters] in rent.  Private rentals were usually more expensive.  And the houses were large and comfortable, with electrical systems capable of handling the usual complement of appliances (including two or three window-mounted reverse-cycle air conditioners for heating and cooling).  Also, we were living in a community with a handy support structure: theater, bowling alley, little league baseball field, teen center, swimming pool, and a small Navy Exchange, all within easy walking distance.  Plus, some units or installations operated shuttle buses between home and work; if you rode the bus and lived in BOT housing, you could count on being picked up and dropped off very near your home.  That was not necessarily the case in a private rental.

I wish now I had kept my housing paperwork, but no such luck.

Here's an excerpt from the 1973 Taiwan Report, the newcomer's welcome guide ((ACO is Area Coordinating Office)):
The Bank of Taiwan manages 280 houses in the Taipei area.  This housing is offered by the cognizant ACO to military personnel on a point basis.  Points are determined by pay grade, number of dependents, time of arrival on Taiwan and other factors.  Personnel coming from unaccompanied tours or ships deployed in a combat zone are given extra points.

Officers in paygrade O-6 and enlisted personnel in paygrade E-9 are eligible for immediate assignment to BOT housing and may be placed on waiting lists by sponsors prior to arrival.

BOT rents are generally lower than private rentals of comparable size with rates varying from $70-$100 per month for wood frame houses and from $100-$125 per month for masonry homes.  A waiting period of 4 to 6 months is usual for personnel other than O-6 or E-9 desiring assignment to BOT housing.

Application for BOT housing should be submitted as soon as possible after arrival on Taiwan since eligibility is determined by placement on a housing list maintained by the housing office.  This does not obligate the acceptance of BOT housing.

As a general rule, BOT houses are older and receive a slightly lower level of maintenance than private rental housing."
As I said, we thought the level of maintenance was actually better than we experienced in private rentals.  And the waiting period was actually much longer than the booklet predicted, at least when we arrived in 1975.  And I’ve attached a couple photos to give you an idea of what our house looked like.  It was half a duplex, which was the norm except for really senior folks.
Bill replied:  We lived in BOT housing in Tien Mou from February, 1973 until December, 1977. I was assigned to the US Army Communications Command in Taipei, but was the personnel officer and ran the personnel office for all the Army personnel in Taiwan during that period. Can't add much to what Les had to say, except that I don't recall having to wait very long after arrival for BOT quarters.

One of things that I particularly liked was the size of our backyard, which was large enough for my kids to practice baseball. I coached little league and my sons all played on the teams I coached. One of my sons was a pitcher and the backyard was large enough for him to practice pitching with myself as catcher. Coaching little league was my attempt to reestablish myself as head of the family and father figure since I had just finished my second tour in Vietnam, second RVN tour in a three year period.

Another thing that I liked was the proximity to the ball field right across the main street in Tien Mou. It was used mainly as a T-ball field, but as the kids grew older our practices and games moved to the ball field close by the Naval Hospital.

Don has some pretty good photos and  commentary on BOT housing at his USTDC website.

Les Replied:  Funny thing about that, I also coached little league for the two years we lived in BOT housing.  T-ball, actually.  There was a batting cage near the baseball field and I remember throwing lots of batting practice there.

I would guess your short waiting time for housing was because you were coming from a remote tour.  That was supposed to carry a lot of weight in deciding where you were placed on the waiting list.  But I must confess I never understood the other weighting factors like rank and time on island.  How points were assigned for each of those was always a mystery to me, maybe because that’s the way the housing office wanted it.

Bill replied:  Les, the fact that I was coming from Vietnam may have had something to do with what seemed to be a rapid assignment of BOT quarters. I am unclear and now foggy on what the criteria was for assignment of BOT housing. It seems to me that Temporary Lodging Allowance (TLA) was also a factor, i.e. minimizing the period in which a person received TLA by staying in a hotel or guest house. I know that TLA minimizing was a factor upon departure, because I used to have to review and process receipts and inevitably, we had some people inflating, duplicating, or attempting fraud in order to maximize the amount of TLA.

As to little league, I had only one son that played T-ball for one year. The other two older sons played on teams that used the larger field close to the Navy hospital. The guy that lived in back of me, Air Force Master Sergeant McGregor, and I teamed up to coach. We got draft preference on our four kids, two of whom could pitch and play any position, and we drafted one more who was a pitcher, infielder and home run hitter. So we ended up with three pitchers two of whom could play catcher and the left side of the diamond was completely covered. Our best season was when we ended up with a 21 and 4 record.

We played a couple of the Chinese teams that so dominated the Little League World Series in those days. We never won against them, but we came closer than some of the teams that played them at Williamsport. At the start of the season, the league coaches all got together and because we were prohibited from going to the World Series, we set our own rules. Little League rules barred any overseas American teams from playing in the little league world series in which the host country was playing. Some of the rules we developed and used: unlimited practice, seven inning games.

Les replied: I had a much less satisfying coaching “career.”  My elder son was signed up for T-ball and ended up on a team sponsored by Citibank.  A Citibank official who had years of coaching experience was head coach and I was supposed to be one of his assistants – easy enough.  Except that right before the first game, he had a family medical emergency and departed for the States.  So of course my fellow assistants voted that I should take over.  We had a pretty poor team and seldom won.  The next year my son graduated to little league and I coached the T-ball team one more time.  The little league games used both the field in the housing area and the one near the hospital, and I think I remember some T-ball games near the hospital as well.