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NEW YORK — As hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers face eviction across the five boroughs, New York City mayoral hopeful Shaun Donovan says he would support direct payments to renters in need if he’s elected to office.

In an exclusive forum with PIX11’s Ayana Harry and Henry Rosoff, Donovan said the city could use federal COVID relief funds to help families stay in their homes.

“We’re on the verge of the worst eviction crisis of our lifetimes,” Donovan said.

Donovan’s decades of affordable housing experience places him in a unique position to help struggling New Yorkers facing eviction. He served as the New York City housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and ran the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development within President Barack Obama’s Cabinet from 2009 to 2014 — throughout the housing crisis that followed the Great Recession.

Now, New York City faces another housing crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were 200,000 eviction cases pending in New York City courts before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Now, court administrators say they have no idea how much larger that number could be when current state and federal eviction moratoriums end.

When asked if he would support sending checks to renters facing eviction in the city, Donovan said “absolutely.”

“We have billions of dollars that’s been passed in Washington. What we need now is a mayor who knows how to work with organizations on the ground to get it to those families,” he added. “And here’s the thing. It’s not just the money. We also need to get housing counseling and legal services to those families as well.”

Donovan also faced tough questions about the NYPD’s budget; how he would pay for his proposed homelessness initiatives; and whether he would require eligible public school students to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to school next fall. Watch the full interview to find out these answers and more.