The director of Montreal's public health department is calling on the Canadian government to invest more in public housing and develop a national housing plan.

The director, Dr. Richard Massé, says Canada is the only developed country without a comprehensive housing strategy in a new report detailing Montreal's problems with healthy and affordable homes.

About 50,000 households in Montreal do not have enough money to buy food, the report notes. In 21 per cent of households, signs of mould and water infiltration are visible.

This report is the the basis for a forum on healthy and affordable housing that kicked off Monday in Montreal.

Rented homes more vulnerable

More than 60 per cent of homes in Montreal are rented, the report says. This presents special challenges, because sanitation problems are more likely to occur in rented homes.

For example, mould and water infiltration are three times more likely to occur in rented housing than owned homes. Almost a third of rented homes reported visible mould or signs of water infiltration in 2014.

Another 40 per cent of renters reported having vermin or excessive moisture. 

The report also focused on problems facing low-income households. It notes that in about 40 per cent of rented homes — about 210,000 — more than 30 per cent of the household income goes to rent. This leaves less money for other necessities, and can lead to health consequences, Massé said.

"We pay in terms of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even certain cancers that are linked with the fact of not being able to pay for fruits and vegetables," he said.

Moreover, 26 per cent of Montrealers live under the poverty line, compared to the provincial average of 15 per cent.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe are attending the forum.

Coderre welcomed the report's conclusions, saying they validate the city's efforts to improve housing. He also called on federal parties to recognize that as a metropolis, Montreal counts of federal aid to attack housing problems.

The Forum montréalais sur le logement et la santé is taking place at the CHUM's research centre, and is organized by the City's public health director and the Institut du Nouveau Monde.