Nick Wormald, a 29-year-old plumber with good credit, said he was shut out of the housing rebound until he asked the government for help.

Wormald, who bought a three-bedroom home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, for $215,000 in December, was required to provide a downpayment of only 3%. That's far below the standard 20% down, which he couldn't afford. And he was spared the burden of buying mortgage insurance. The plumber got the fixed-rate deal through MassHousing, his state's housing-finance agency, or HFA.

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