Front lawns are a good indicator of a community's sense of pride.
As Christchurch's red-zoned suburbs slowly empty of people, front yards have been transformed into tangles of chest-high grass.
But a specially appointed team of former beneficiaries has taken on the task of maintaining nearly 8000 red-zone properties.
Crew head Wayne Garrick said the team encountered everything from rats and squatters to three-metre-high grass and broken pipes ''spraying water everywhere''.
The houses have sometimes been vandalised, and often the occupants have left everything behind.
''People have just walked away and left everything. A lot of people have left food, so we have had quite a few rats,'' Garrick said.
The 25-strong team takes ride-on mowers and weedeaters to properties acquired by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera).
The $770,000 WorkInZone programme is run by the Ministry of Social Development, City Care, Cera and the Christchurch City Council.
The workers are on six-month contracts.
Garrick is proud of his crew, who range in age from 18 to 60.
''They are a really good bunch of guys. All these guys were unemployed,'' he said.
''There are some older ones that haven't worked for about 10 years and have lost all their confidence, and young ones that haven't worked.
''It is about getting their confidence back. The whole idea is to get them working.''
The workers also have the chance of getting a fulltime job at City Care.
Garrick said the crew worked through about 17 properties on a good day and about 10 on a bad day.
The workers have dealt with about 600 properties in their first few months.
Garrick said his men were sometimes greeted by people still living in the red zone with cakes, pies and hot drinks.
A postal worker thanked the crew for clearing debris and overgrowth so he could deliver his letters more easily.
- © Fairfax NZ News