Andrew, while rent in your area , as you put it, is "almost" as expensive as a mortgage payment - let me tell you that owning a home will certainly cost you more than that rent payment. You will have to factor in higher utility bills than in an apt., insurance costs, lawn care and snow removal, general maintenance, etc. If the furnace breaks, there is no super to call to fix it.....same with the refrigerator and AC........if the roof leaks, YOU have to pay to fix it. Maintenance and repair items can certainly add up to a lot of money. If you don't have a cushion (savings) you may find yourself in a very precarious position.
You will need at least 3.5% as a down payment.
Any financial planner will advise you to have several month's expenses saved up before buying a home.
I applaud your desire to own a home, but I think you need to do some planning and saving, first. You don't want to be strapped to a house you can't afford to maintain. One big expense, and you may fall behind, unless you have that cushion I mentioned.
Speak to a mortgage broker, and go over your credit issues. Work on getting that score up - you need to do that before you can get a loan.. Find out how much your income would qualify you for in a loan. Start saving money with your goal in mind.
Once you have this mapped out and you have a plan - you will eventually be in a position to buy a home.