Sunnyside Neighborhood Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Casey Filice and Becky Straus

Casey Filice and Becky Straus moved to Sunnyside with their son, Forest, during the pandemic and they are so glad they did. Filice, who is a labor organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU, one of America’s biggest unions), has fond memories of living in Sunnyside in the ‘90s when she was in her early 20s. Straus, a legal aid lawyer at the Oregon Law Center, was living on Hawthorne and 44th when she met Filice in the early aughts. When I met them recently, their son, Forest, had just made his moms blueberry muffins for Mother’s Day—and I got to enjoy one with a cup of coffee on their front porch. 

How long have you lived in Sunnyside? 

Casey: We bought it in September, 2020. Before that, we’d been in Foster Powell. 

We both rented when we were younger. I’ve lived in 3 of the 4 quadrants, but mostly in Southeast. 

Does your son go to SES? 

Casey: He’s 4, so he’s in preschool. 

Casey, what do you do? 

Casey: I am a labor organizer in the property service division of SEIU Local 49. We mostly represent workers in janitorial, security and airport service industries.  

Becky, tell me a bit about your work. It has something to do with preventing evictions, if I’m not mistaken.  

Becky: I work for the Oregon Law Center, which is a nonprofit law firm. We provide free legal services to low-income people on a range of issues, not just eviction cases. Since the pandemic, I’ve focused exclusively on building out an Eviction Defense Project. Our offices have always done eviction defense cases—but the scale at which we are doing them now is pretty unprecedented. We’ve been able to get federal funds for new grants and money through the state, county and the city. We’ve hired a bunch of new lawyers and we’re trying to do a high volume eviction defense model. It’s a different model than what legal aid has done before. 

Are there other organizations doing this important work?  

Becky: From the standpoint of lawyers and eviction court, we are one of the primary ones. The Metropolitan Public Defender Community Law Program is doing some of that, too. They complement our work. And Portland Community College’s legal clinic just got in the game, too. Their work is a great model because they are utilizing law students to help support their case work, which is a really sustainable way to have these kinds of services. 

How big is your team now?

Becky: We have about 30 staff members on the eviction project alone, and that includes attorneys and paralegals. And, we’re still hiring.

What do you love about Sunnyside? 

Casey: I love the trees in this area. I really love that we can walk and bike to everything.  

Becky: I would add the community, as well. Once we moved here and we met people going to the playgrounds, we found meaningful connection with people really quickly.  

Casey: Houses I used to rent rooms in—the homeowners are still in the neighborhood. I have so many great memories of this area.  I am really happy to be able to raise my son here.

Becky: We really love Navarre (John Taboada’s Spanish restaurant) on 28th and Burnside. When we moved here and realized that we were within a short walking distance, it kind of shook our perspective a little bit. We had a moment of gratitude! There are so many reasons. The winter before last when it snowed and everyone was skiing down Salmon, I was like, ‘Oh yeah: we live on a bike avenue! Of course, this is gonna be the place where people ski…’

What is one thing you would change about Sunnyside, if you could?    

{Both are silent for a minute or so…seemingly, they can’t think of any critiques.}

Becky: I do feel that there’s a solutions-oriented mindset in Sunnyside. Of course there are the people who are not as engaged and don’t understand the complexity of the issues—they knee jerk to the easiest message. But most people are engaged. When we first moved here and we would go to Sunnyside playground—that was when we first learned of the work of Beacon. [Beacon now has a tiny house village at Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Montavilla.] 

There are people doing active, productive things.

Are you cat people or dog people? 

We have an eight year old dog, Gus. We have had him since he was a puppy and we think he is an Aussie-Shepherd mix, but we are not sure.  

Hannah Wallace