Maine’s largest legal aid group gets new director as more people seek housing help

Tom Fritzsche has come full circle.

The new executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, the statewide organization that provides legal services to low-income Mainers in civil matters, grew up in Kennebunk. His father, retired Superior Court Justice Paul Fritzsche, worked for the group from 1975 to 1981.

He’s taken over the legal aid group at a time when it’s seen an increase in requests for housing-related help as a large emergency rental assistance program funded by federal COVID relief money has stopped accepting new applications, as well as an uptick in requests for help from domestic violence victims.

Fritzsche, 41, of Portland has been on the job since early September. He took over the reins of the organization after Nan Heald, who headed the organization for more than three decades, died of cancer in January at age 66.

Pine Tree Legal, which opened in 1967, is the largest legal aid organization in Maine.

Fritzsche oversees a staff of 75 — including 47 attorneys and 15 paralegals — in offices in Portland, Lewiston, Augusta, Bangor, Machias and Presque Isle. Its 2022 budget is $8.67 million, with about 34 percent coming from federal funding and about 48 percent from the state. The rest of the budget is funded through grants and donations.

Now that MaineHousing is no longer accepting new applications for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, Pine Tree Legal has seen the demand for help with housing-related issues increase, Fritzsche said. 

In the first three months of 2022, the organization opened 1,027 new housing cases, which made up 61 percent of all of the organization’s new cases in that time. Since July 1, it has opened 1,266 new housing cases.

“Right now, low-income Mainers face an ongoing housing crisis that is about to get dramatically worse,”

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