MONTREAL -- The mayors of Montreal, Quebec City and Gatineau are hailing a new federal-provincial deal-in-principle on affordable housing.

Under the new deal, $1.4 billion will go to fund affordable housing in cities throughout the province of Quebec.

The new agreement-in-principle between Ottawa and Quebec is especially pertinent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante said Friday at a joint press conference with Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume and Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin.

Montreal has a glaring lack of new affordable and social housing projects that has only worsened during the pandemic, Plante added.

"Just turn on to Notre-Dame Street where about 70 people are living in a tent city," Plante said. "They will tell you they don't just want (temporary) aid, they need homes."

The three mayors said they are bracing for an expected second wave of the pandemic as it may force even more people out of their homes due to financial constraints and mental health issues - and aggravate needs for affordable housing amid historically tight vacancy rates.

As it stands, 150,000 households in Montreal are currently waiting for affordable housing.

"The needs here are huge," Plante said, adding that new affordable and social housing projects "have run out of steam because there's been no new money."

She noted that the talks to arrive at a new deal have been underway for three years and that the pressure applied by the mayors of Quebec's three largest cities pushed officials to reach a deal this week.

Details of the new deal are not yet known but construction on some of the new projects to be funded could start as early as next spring.

Plante said the money will help with the city's plan for 12,000 affordable housing units over the course of the Plante mandate - about 60 per cent of those units are funded but there is an urgent need for new funds to complete the plan.

The devil will be in the details, the mayors said, agreeing that most of the funds need to go to support existing municipal housing programs like Acces-Logis.

Plante said the number of homeless people in Montreal is estimated to have doubled in the last few years, to 6,000 - and the city's homeless shelters are facing a shortage of about 300 beds this coming winter.

"COVID hit us hard," Plante said. "It was hard for the economy and for morale."

Not all of the money will go to build new housing units. Some of it will be used to repair existing public housing units, Plante said.

Labeaume said his city's 2,300 new affordable housing units to be built over the next five years are already dedicated to people who cannot afford the capital's housing market, including students, people with disabilities and homeless people. Labeaume said he needs to see the details of the deal in principle.

He added that the federal-provincial deal must let cities use the new money as they see fit.

"Let us make our choices," Labeaume warned federal and provincial officials. "We know our cities, we know our people."

"We're eager to find out the details," said Pedneaud-Jobin, adding that his city's current 1.5 per cent vacancy rate is extremely tight and it comes after the region was hit by tornados, floods and COVID-19. "It's a crisis," Pedneaud-Jobin said. Some Gatineau residents are surviving by couch surfing - and close to 9,000 residents paying 30 per cent of their income on rent.

"We're not just into building houses we really want to help people," he added. "Housing is fundamental in the battle against poverty."