Published: Mar 09, 2011 4:31 AM EST
Updated: Mar 09, 2011 1:34 AM EST

SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. - Some Tanglewood Elementary parents are concerned about new neighbors moving into the area, and Tuesday night, they got a chance to speak out. Within months, the Fort Myers Housing Authority plans to turn an apartment complex on Summerlin Road into public housing.

About two dozen parents and community members showed up, many worried the renovations at Horizons Apartments on will bring trouble and crime to the area. The Fort Myers Housing Authority has owned Horizons Apartments since 1999. But with more than half the units empty and piling debt, they chose to turn the complex into public housing.

"Can we or should we expect a higher crime rate now?" one parent asked.

"How does the crime in the complex compare to the rest of the Lee County area?" another inquired.

Sherri Campanale, Director of Housing and Maintenance Operations said all those income-qualified have criminal background checks. However, they don't run checks on children under 18. Sex offenders, and those with certain felonies will be denied.

"We have zero tolerance, as does HUD. Zero tolerance for crime. You get in trouble and you get asked to leave," Campanale said.

Because of the economic downturn, Campanale says those looking for affordable housing are more often people struggling with employment, not criminals. But that didn't tame all parents' fears. "We need affordable housing in the community for people who are working real hard to make a living, but we don't want the problems to move in next to the school and cause problems for the kids, teachers and families that live around here," parent Robert Burns said.

"There should be no change in their neighborhood," Campanale said. "This is just a place where it'll be a safe, affordable, decent place for those that can't afford to live in the big beautiful houses with the white picket fence on the lawn."

One woman at the meeting said she thinks this will be a positive opportunity for students to meet children from other backgrounds. The plan is to demolish an older building to construct a playground, leaving 170 available units. Once all the renovations are complete, a wait list will be opened, likely by summer.